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What Will ‘Green’ School Buses Cost Local Taxpayers?

The Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] has $5 billion in tax dollars to spend on its “Clean School Bus Program.” The program aims to get schools to dump diesel buses for electric, hydrogen, or natural gas vehicles. Nearly $56 million of that money, part of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, is going to fund 213 clean school buses in 21 Pennsylvania school districts.

The question some ask is how much will it cost local schools to operate those “free” buses?

Electric-battery buses can travel about 100 miles on a charge, said Baruch Feigenbaum of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank. While some manufacturers claim 200 miles, that depends on weather, topography, and load weight, among other factors

Depending on the battery type, it can take between four to eight hours to charge EV buses, which could be a problem for buses that are used for multiple routes on the same day. And a 2018 study of a Colorado school system comparing the use of diesel vs. EV buses found electric vehicles were less reliable and operating costs were actually higher: 84 cents per mile for diesel, but $1.11 per mile for the EVs.

The study was produced under direction of the U.S. Department of Transportation by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The EPA said that in addition to Philadelphia, the Pennsbury, Unionville-Chadds Ford, and Rosetree Media school districts were awarded funding for the buses.

The Philadelphia School District will receive $8.9 million for 25 buses; Unionville-Chaddsford was awarded $1 million for five buses; Rosetree Media also receives $1 million for five buses; and Pennsbury will get $125,000 for five propane buses.

It’s unlikely the school districts would have made this change on their own. According to Wirepoints Illinois Financial News, the EV buses cost about $350,000 each, while a diesel school bus costs less than $100,000.

Critics of the Biden energy policy — forcing the shutdown of base load electricity from coal and natural gas while expanding the reliance on electric power — say this is yet another example of an administration at cross purposes.

“Ironically, the EPA is issuing grants to school districts to buy electric buses while also stifling the production and distribution of actual energy,” said Carl Marrara, executive director of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association. “More stress on our electrical grid plus prematurely shuttering compliant power plants equals less capacity for our already fragile systems to keep the lights on. ‘Recipe for disaster’ is the only way to describe it.”

James Whitesel, director of facilities for Unionville-Chadds Ford, says his district is “proud” to be one of the schools picked for EV funding.

“Our district is currently piloting two electric buses. We look forward to engaging our community in a conversation over the coming months on the progress of that program and the opportunity to leverage this $1 million rebate,” Whitesel told DVJournal.

State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), chairman of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, is less impressed.

“Forced mandates and government subsidies are being shoved down our throats. We have to stop kidding ourselves that electric vehicles will save the planet. EVs cost more than gas vehicles and now cost more to power, fuel, and charge those vehicles, even further straining our electric grid.”

Officials at Rosetree Media did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Not all the buses are electric. Derek Cesari, Pennsbury’s bus garage supervisor, said the grant will fund five new propane buses, each costing $140,000 to $165,000.

Five older diesel buses will be scrapped, which is another goal of the program.

“The requirements are that the bus must be a regular routed bus, with a diesel engine that has a built date of 2009 or older. The buses are then taken to a scrap yard; the yard punches holes in the engine blocks, cuts the bus frames in half, and crushes the bus bodies. All this work is fully documented, and pictures are included, which is all sent to the EPA and then the grant money is released.”

Destroying buses that are still operational and safe — and could be donated to struggling schools or used by community nonprofits — strikes some as wasteful. But getting these buses off the road is the point, rather than economic efficiency.

Amy Richards with the American Petroleum Institute Pennsylvania said, “While we support federal policies that are technology-neutral and allow all options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector, the EPA’s narrow focus on clean buses using electricity disincentivizes the development of other fuel-based technologies—including American-made renewable diesel—that are working in today’s heavy-duty fleet to reduce emissions more quickly and at a lower cost. Battery technology and infrastructure constraints remain significant challenges for all-electric heavy-duty vehicles like school buses.”

Asked about the environmental costs of lithium mining required for EV batteries, EPA spokesperson Shayla Powell downplayed the issue.

“Concerns about environmental impacts apply not only to lithium batteries for electric buses and other critical minerals but also to all extractive activities, including oil and gas production and the materials used in manufacturing all types of vehicles. Industry and the U.S. government are taking steps to lessen environmental impacts from mining in the U.S. and abroad. Specifically, for HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs, there are more than enough minerals to make enough to meet the demand for these vehicles,” she said.

Building other vehicles also has environmental impacts, she said.

For Yaw, the issue is the government intervention that’s creating artificial financial incentives.

“To transition to electric buses, school districts will have to rely heavily on government grants and incentives to cover the purchase and long-term maintenance costs. These costs are being borne by taxpayers and utility ratepayers, who are all paying a hefty price for the electric vehicle transition. Why are we mandating the unwanted and expensive?”

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PA Senate Dem: School Choice Backers Support White, Christian Nationalist Goals

A Pennsylvania Senate Democrat launched a tirade against school choice supporters at an education rally this week, accusing them of wanting to “drive straight, White, able-bodied kids into private religious schools.”

Sen. Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), minority chair of the Senate Education Committee, accused voucher supporters of sharing the goals of the so-called Christian Nationalism movement: having “a country that favors evangelical Christian beliefs over all other beliefs.”

She also claimed public school spending was falling due to choice initiatives.

In fact, per pupil spending in Pennsylvania public schools has risen, even as choice opportunities have expanded. But Williams told a Harrisburg crowd that parental education choice was the enemy of public schools.

Williams told a group of teachers union members and Democratic activists in Harrisburg that while the voucher bills have various names, “they all do the same thing: They all take public money and put it in unaccountable private schools.”

“That’s not a secret. That’s the plan. It’s a plan to dismantle public education.”

School choice advocates dismissed what they called Williams’ outrageous attacks as par for the course.

“It’s pretty common to see these myths trotted out because that’s all they have,” said Marc LeBlond, director of state advocacy with the American Federation for Children. “It is impossible to defend trapping kids in schools that are failing them or making success in life dependent on ZIP code or income.”

Williams called out two groups by name: the Commonwealth Foundation and the Pennsylvania Family Institute.

“They have been defunding public schools by slashing education budgets. They have been in court fighting to prevent constitutionally required funding for our public schools,” Williams said. “All so that they can have a country that favors evangelical Christian beliefs over all other beliefs.”

Commonwealth Foundation Senior Vice President Nathan Benefield told DVJournal Williams has got the facts backward.

“Many private schools across Pennsylvania provide better options for low-income students, minority students, LGBTQ students, and special needs students,” Benenfield said.

Pennsylvania Family Institute Vice President for Policy Tom Shaheen said the institute works with thousands of families “from a variety of backgrounds.”

And the data show education choice benefits the very students Williams says she represents.

For example, a 2021 study published by GLSEN, a nonprofit that seeks to end bullying of LGBTQ+ students, said that public school students experience higher levels of bullying than private school students. Despite public schools having a more inclusive curriculum.

“Students thrive when their families are empowered to find the educational environment that best fits each of their children,” said Shaheen.

As for the claim choice is costing local public schools, per-pupil spending hit a record $22,000 this year, according to Benefield. He added districts squirreled away another $6.8 billion in taxpayer money in reserves.

While Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed $1.1 billion in new school funding in his budget, the Democratic-controlled House wants far more. On Monday, it passed a public school reform plan that would cost an additional $6 billion.

Supporters said the bill fixed funding disparity problems that a state judge called unconstitutional last year. State Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-Philadelphia) vowed HB 2370 would “reshape and transform the future” for all students and school districts in the state.

“We are sitting on a budget surplus of $15 billion.” said state Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia). “We have the money! Now give it to the children! Put it in the schools!”

Shapiro called the bill a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to help kids and give them the chance to “chart their own course.”

The governor had previously supported school vouchers, including a choice program on his “unfinished business” list last November.

Republicans rejected the premise that surplus taxes collected by the state belong to politicians, arguing the money should go back to taxpayers.

The extra money isn’t enough for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, however. Union president Aaron Chapin said the funding was a “tremendous first step” to help student learning, but still just a step. He also pushed for increasing teacher and staff wages.

“We can’t offer students equitable education opportunities if we don’t have the staff available to provide instruction on programs,” he said.

School choice advocates said throwing money at a problem won’t work. They pointed to last year’s Pennsylvania System of School Assessment results showing just 53.7 percent of students were proficient or above in English. That was a drop from the 61.4 percent proficiency in 2018. Math scores were 39.4 percent proficiency or above in 2023 compared to 42 percent in 2018 — all falling as school funding increased.

“It is disappointing but not surprising that the defenders of the status quo can only fall back on thoroughly debunked claims of ‘defunding’ and endless calls for more money,” said LeBlond.

He says school voucher opponents are too laser-focused on funding.

“As Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer noted in Pennsylvania’s School Funding ruling, ‘options for reform are virtually limitless,’ and reform is not required to be entirely financial.”

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Shapiro Rides Suburban Rails to Promote More SEPTA Spending

Gov. Josh Shapiro brought his budget-promoting roadshow to the Delaware Valley Thursday, talking up increased spending on mass transit. What he didn’t discuss is the growing gap between rising costs and declining ridership.

The Democratic governor has been going around the state drumming up support for his $48.3 billion proposed 2024-25 budget.

On Thursday, Shapiro jumped on the SEPTA train at Rydal Station in Abington and rode to Langhorne Station in Bucks County to focus attention on his call for $282.8 million in additional spending on public transit. He was joined by PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll, SEPTA CEO Leslie Richards, and Transit Police Chief Charles Lawson, along with local legislators.

Shapiro argues millions of state residents take public transit to work, school, or travel. He says public transit availability also helps employers recruit workers, connect with clients, and makes the state economically competitive.

Shapiro’s budget would increase the state share of public transit funding by 1.75 percent, adding up to nearly $1.5 billion in new taxpayer dollars over five years.

Critics believe SEPTA already gets its fair share of state funding.

“Gov. Shapiro is proposing a mass transit bailout forcing taxpayers across the state to further subsidize a transportation system they will never use. Polling shows only 35 percent of voters support the bailout. And Pennsylvania drivers already send more than $600 million to mass transit systems,” said Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation.

“Funneling more funds from Harrisburg to SEPTA won’t save the system that’s seen a rapid decline in ridership. It’s time for SEPTA to find cost savings and increase its reliance on fares—not state taxpayers,” Stelle said.

A Commonwealth Foundation analysis found SEPTA and Pittsburgh Regional Transit (PRT) have lost riders since 2019. SEPTA lost 39 percent of its riders, and PRT lost 32 percent. The Norristown High Speed Line lost 50 percent of its passengers.

In October 2023, average ridership was just 67 percent of the October 2019 number. On Regional Rail, ridership was just 56 percent of the pre-COVID average.

Former riders cite crime as a reason they no longer ride SEPTA. Since 2019, crime and quality of life violations on SEPTA vehicles and stations increased significantly. Robberies and aggravated assaults on SEPTA increased by more than 80 percent between 2019 and 2021 despite ridership decreasing by 50 percent during that time period.

Quality of life violations on SEPTA increased by 34 percent from 2019 to 2022. Certain offenses, such as littering, disorderly conduct, public urination, and smoking, increased by more than 200 percent from 2019 to 2022.

Shapiro addressed those concerns on Thursday.

“My budget includes an additional $161 million to help keep SEPTA clean and safe, and if the General Assembly passes it, SEPTA will be able to fund 40 more police officers, 30 more safety personnel, and 100 more cleaners without cutting service or raising fares. This is a commonsense investment that will help provide real freedom and opportunity for more than 700,000 Pennsylvanians who use SEPTA every day,” Shapiro said.

He argues that public transit is critical in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where it serves the five-county area. In addition to SEPTA, the governor’s proposal would fund 31 other public transit systems across the state.

Ahead of his budget address in February, the governor and his administration worked closely with SEPTA to assess its needs and develop a plan to address riders’ concerns about cleanliness and safety on the system. Richards thanked Shapiro for his “historic investment” into public transportation.

However, in 2017, SEPTA invested in new double-decker train cars from a Chinese company, spending more than $50 million. The Inquirer reported that the transit agency canceled the order in April over “shoddy work.” The transit agency said it would try to recover that money.

Richards and Shapiro, both Democrats, served as Montgomery County commissioners, elected together in 2011.

In April, SEPTA proposed a $2.6 billion total budget for Fiscal Year 2025 that includes twice the funding for safety and cleanliness programs, including a total of $72 million to fund 40 more police officers, 30 more safety professionals, and 100 more cleaners.

Despite lower ridership, SEPTA’s operating budget has increased by 9.3 percent since 2019. The agency reports a $240 million budget shortfall and has threatened 30 percent fare increases and 20 percent service cuts to offset the shortfall.

“When it comes to spending more money on SEPTA, I will echo the words of [Philadelphia] Mayor Parker: ‘People will not return to SEPTA if they don’t feel safe,’” said House Republican Appropriations Chairman Seth Grove (R-York). “Ridership has dropped 39 percent from 2018-2019 levels.  Before approving more state money to a public transit system that hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, we need to see a comprehensive plan to reform the system.”

But DelVal legislators in both parties praised Shapiro’s visit.

“I appreciate the opportunity of having Gov. Shapiro in our district to discuss the important issue of transit funding,” said Sen. Frank Farry (R-Bucks). “Transit plays an important role in the 6th Senatorial District for our citizens, students, and workforce. I look forward to continuing the discussion on adequate funding for our transit agencies.”

“SEPTA is an important part of the Philadelphia area’s transportation infrastructure,” said Rep. Joe Hogan (R-Penndel). “With headline events like the 2026 FIFA World Cup, America250, and the 2026 MLB All-Star game coming to Philadelphia, this investment is necessary to make sure SEPTA is prepared for the crowds that will come with them.”

“Folks who are struggling to make it across Pennsylvania told me that lack of transportation is a key barrier to getting ahead,” said Sen. Art Haywood (D-Montgomery). “Transportation equals pay. We cannot afford to delay Gov. Shapiro’s plan.” 

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FLURIE: It’s Unconstitutional to Cut Funding to Public Cyber Charter School Students

As board president of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools (PCPCS) and a former president and CEO of a public cyber charter school, I am stunned by the overwhelming contempt projected by school district leaders and anti-charter school interest groups toward families who choose to enroll their children in a cyber charter school.

Public cyber charter schools do not hand-pick their students. They are public schools that are available to any child who resides in Pennsylvania.

Public cyber charter schools are as diverse as Pennsylvania: they have students and families from a variety of cultures, ethnicities, beliefs, and socioeconomic statuses; they often have a higher-than-average number of students who have disabilities, are struggling with mental health, are teen parents, are working full-time, are homeless, identify as LGBTQ+, or are low-income.

While unique in their own way, all public cyber charter school students have one objective in common: working toward securing their high school diploma to become responsible, productive citizens of society.

It has become fashionable to criticize those schools that give students an alternate pathway to achieving a successful future; however, it’s immature, irresponsible, and unbecoming of the same adults who are to set an example for our younger generations. Children and families are watching and witnessing the constant gnashing of teeth about the school that best meets their needs or provides them with the safety and security they desire.

Many of those who target public cyber charter schools were fortunate to have attended high-performing schools (maybe even private schools), lived in safe communities, and not experienced extreme poverty or the bullying and harassment that creates a barrier to learning.

Many families enroll their children in public cyber charter schools because they are the only alternative to their local school district. Many families cannot afford private school tuition, don’t have the means to relocate, or manage homeschooling because of employment.

There is no reason for these families to be criticized, patronized, or questioned for doing what they feel is in their children’s best interest. Pennsylvania’s public cyber charter schools provide students and families with a safe learning environment that ensures they will grow socially and academically.

I cannot fathom how cyber charter school families feel being at the center of this argument. The visceral attacks are only about money and never mention students.

Although public cyber charter school students already receive, on average, 30 percent less funding than their peers in school districts, anti-cyber charter advocates want even more.

On one side, opponents want to cut funding to cyber charter school students; on the other side, some are standing up for and defending the rights of parents to choose the school that best serves their children. I will always stand with students and families and defend their right to attend the school that best meets their needs.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, on February 6, proposed cutting funding to cyber charter school students by $262 million while at the same time proposing to increase funding to school districts by nearly $2 billion.

During his budget address, Shapiro stated, “We’ve got to invest more in our children, not less.”

He further said, “No school gets less than they did last year.” Public cyber schools will get less under his budget.

Last year, during an appearance on the Fox News Channel, he said, “The best way to ensure every child of God has a fair chance … is to ensure they have a proper education.”

Actions speak louder than words.

It is difficult to ascertain what our governor truly believes. His actions and words do not align with being pro-educational choice. That’s unfortunate because, when the governor took office, many were hopeful that he would expand and protect school choice options across the state, as has been done in numerous states nationwide. It’s no surprise that school choice is spreading rampantly: national polling studies show that nearly 75 percent of Americans of all parties overwhelmingly support school choice.

We’re only a few months away from learning who is on the side of students and families and who is on the side of special interest groups. If last year’s voucher fight is any indication, school choice opponents will fight hard to shut down public cyber charter schools.

Lawmakers and the governor need to review the mandate in the William Penn School District case handed down by the Commonwealth Court in February 2023: “The only requirement, [] imposed by the Constitution, is that every student receives a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically, which requires that all students have access to a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education.”

Cutting funding to public cyber charter school students is morally wrong, ethically repugnant, and unconstitutional.

Let’s avoid another potential legal battle by leaving funding for cyber charter school students untouched. That’s the least we can do for our leaders and workers of tomorrow.

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Penn Vet Tries To Mend Fences With PA Legislature Over Campus Antisemitic Incidents

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine sent a letter on Jan. 26 to Pennsylvania House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler in an effort to restore its state funding.

In December, the state legislature voted against sending the veterinary school $33 million in state funding in the wake of antisemitic incidents at the University of Pennsylvania. The vote was also a response to congressional testimony from then-President Liz Magill in which she was unable to say that “calling for the genocide of Jews” violated the university’s policies, calling it “a context-dependent decision.”

In the wake of that testimony, criticism from students and alumni, and the withdrawal of support from some significant donors, Magill resigned.

The letter, signed by Penn Vet interim president J. Larry Jameson, M.D. Ph.D. notes the school “provides world-class training to future veterinarians; exceptional clinical care to animals; vital diagnostic testing against devastating diseases; some of which also impact humans; and innovative research that benefits both animal and human health.”

As to the antisemitic incidents on campus that caused the House to vote to remove funding from Penn Vet, the letter notes the university’s division of public safety is working with the FBI and local police to investigate threats and violence. Two students and another person have been arrested.

Regarding faculty and staff, two Penn employees “have separated from university because of their behavior.” All complaints against employees have been referred to the proper disciplinary bodies.

The university condemns “hateful acts.”

The university’s task force on antisemitism has been asked to speed up its timeline for action items. Its Presidential Commission on Countering Hate and Building Community met for the first time on Dec. 19 and will meet again on Feb. 15.

The school supports the General Assembly’s bills to combat antisemitism and stands “clearly and strongly against antisemitism in all its odious forms,” the letter said.

Also, “Penn has investigated all reported acts of antisemitism on campus, and we will continue to do so, taking action in accordance with our policies and the law,” the letter said. “At this time, one student organization has an active case file with the university’s Center for Community Standards and Accountability. We have determined this organization did not receive university funding. We are following our established processes and remain committed to ensuring an environment where students can thrive.”

Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for Cutler, said, “We have had constructive dialogue with leadership at the University of Pennsylvania and hope to continue those productive conversations over the coming weeks as we work toward the shared goal of eliminating antisemitism and calls for the genocide of Jewish people.”

However, antisemitic incidents continue to arise at Penn. Most recently, DVJournal reported that Dwayne Booth,  a lecturer in the Annenberg School of Communication, has been drawing and publishing antisemitic cartoons since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Reacting to those drawings, Michael Balaban, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said, “Dwayne Booth’s cartoon dangerously invokes the classic antisemitic propaganda of the blood libel. At a time when antisemitism is on the rise across the country, these cartoons only serve to demonize and isolate the Jewish community, minimizing the legitimate threat of antisemitism. We call on the University of Pennsylvania to address Booth’s tenure to show that perpetuating antisemitic tropes should never be tolerated.”

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DelVal Dems Vote Against Israel Aid Funding Bill

On Tuesday, a $17.6 billion bill to help fund Israeli security failed in the U.S. House. Israel has been at war since the savage Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 took the lives of some 1,200 people. Terrorists kidnapped another 240 people, including Americans, and are holding them hostage in Gaza.

Delaware Valley’s three congressional Democrats, Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, Madeleine Dean, and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Philadelphia/Delaware/Montgomery) voted against the bill. Local Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick voted for it.

The GOP-proposed legislation was a “clean” bill, not attached to any other issues like border security or aid to Ukraine.

In a Feb. 3 letter, House Speaker Michael Johnson (R-La.) said, “Given the Senate’s failure to move appropriate legislation in a timely fashion and the perilous circumstances currently facing Israel, the House will continue to lead. Next week, we will take up and pass a clean, standalone Israel supplemental package. During debate the House and the original House bill was with its offsets. The Senate will no longer have excuses, however misguided, against swift passage of this critical support for our ally.”

Although the vote was 250 to 180, two-thirds approval was needed for passage.

The Senate had formulated a bill that would have included $60 million for Ukraine and $20 million for the U.S. border, although not for items Republicans believe are needed, such as a border wall. Both Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and John Fetterman joined the majority of their fellow Democrats and backed the $118 billion package, but it failed a procedural vote (49-50)  on Wednesday.

President Biden had said he would have vetoed the House bill but would have signed the Senate bill had they reached his desk.

Delaware Valley Democrats who helped kill the aid to Israel bill went to great lengths to explain their votes.

“I have always supported Israel’s right to defend itself and will continue to vote accordingly,” said Houlahan. “But I cannot support a politically motivated piece of legislation that falls short on a host of related national security issues, including the needs of Ukraine, Taiwan, innocent Palestinians, and our southern border.”

Houlahan added, “Of course, this vote was not easy. I know Israel needs further support as they seek to root out Hamas’ entrenched control in Gaza. That’s why I’m hopeful that cooler, more bipartisan heads will prevail, and I will soon be able to vote on a supplemental package that supports our ally, Israel, as well as Ukraine, Taiwan, and the many community groups and law enforcement agencies along our southern border.”

Dean explained her no vote: “On Oct. 7, 2023, Hamas launched a brutal attack on Israeli civilians that killed more than 1,400 men, women, and children. In the wake of that horrifying attack, I have been unwavering in my belief that Israel has a right to exist, every hostage must be returned, and Hamas must be dislodged — without destroying innocent life.

“I have also repeatedly expressed my deep concern — for the men, women, and children in harm’s way, through no fault of their own, without adequate food, water, shelter, or medical supplies. This legislation contains no humanitarian aid for Gazans or Israelis.

“These grave circumstances demand serious action — but this bill, hastily introduced by House Republican leadership, is, unfortunately, not that. Instead of considering a bipartisan package addressing our border and immigration systems — in addition to our commitments to long-term peace in the Middle East — House Republicans are once again using Israel as a political cudgel,” Dean said.

Scanlon called the GOP bill “a cynical political maneuver.”

“Since the horrific Oct. 7 attack, I have stood with President Biden and House Democrats to strongly support Israel and secure the return of the hostages. Our commitment to Israel’s security and existence has not wavered, and we remain ready to support serious, bipartisan efforts that honor the special relationship between the United States and Israel. H.R. 7217 is neither serious nor bipartisan, having been crafted solely to sow political division and to block the bipartisan security supplemental negotiated by the Senate and the White House.

“America’s national security interests, and those of our close allies, should not be subject to partisan political games. H.R. 7217 is designed to politicize support for Israel while denying military aid to Ukraine and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and Gaza. It would undermine the longstanding, bipartisan support for Israel in Congress while harming both America’s and Israel’s national security. Congress must act now to support Israel, surge humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza, support Ukraine against Russian aggression, tackle the challenges at the southern border, and strengthen our democratic allies in the Indo-Pacific,” Scanlon said.

Residents took to Facebook to react to this vote.

“These three need to be turned out and replaced by real American First candidates,” wrote Denise Myers.

And Vince Gambone said, “As usual, they’re following orders given by the DNC. Can’t remember any of them ever thinking for themselves.”

On the other hand, Rich Heiland said, “I am fine with her vote. The Republicans have sabotaged aid to Israel, Ukraine, and the border because of their obedience to Trump. Why should Chrissy play along with their politics? We should fund all those areas, as well as assist Palestinian victims in Gaza. We also should fund the border. But, as long as Trump is calling the shots, we won’t. As for the homeless in the U.S., Republicans won’t help them, either.”

And Teri Selleck Majewski added, “I think we need to worry about our homeless first before sending anything to other countries. Are any of them sending anything to us besides their citizens sneaking in?”

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Ridership Sags, Costs Soar, but Shapiro Still Wants More Money for SEPTA

Despite exploding costs and plunging ridership, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) appears in line for another infusion of nearly $300 million in taxpayer cash.

Earlier this week, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro vowed to increase public transportation funding by $282.8 million.

“Ever since I was a state representative and county commissioner in Montgomery County, I have supported SEPTA and the critical services it offers to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians every day,” the governor said. “SEPTA has presented plans to address safety and cleanliness throughout their system, and county officials have entertained a willingness to step up to the plate and increase their support. As a result, my administration is prepared to make a major investment in SEPTA.”

It’s yet to be determined how much local funding, if any, Delaware Valley governments will kick in.

SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie S. Richards praised Shapiro’s decision. She said it would help SEPTA “address our more pressing needs and…continue [to serve] our communities.” Richards previously said SEPTA might cut services by 20 percent and raise fares by 30 percent. That would raise a Quick Trip Ticket from $2.50 to $3.25 and SEPTA Key and contactless payments from $2 to $2.60.

SEPTA funding and budget issues became a major focus for Democratic politicians after the transit agency revealed that it faced a looming fiscal cliff. It burned through $1.8 billion in federal COVID money between Fiscal Years 2020 and 2023 while generating just $1.18 billion in revenue.

That’s not counting the $2 billion in annual funding from Pennsylvania taxpayers, something independent auditors said was “the largest single source of subsidy revenue.”

An additional $295 million in taxpayer funding was not included in last year’s state budget.

And still ridership numbers continue to fall short of pre-COVID levels. In October 2023, average ridership was just 67 percent of the October 2019 number. On Regional Rail, ridership was just 56 percent of the pre-COVID average.

SEPTA’s cash crunch caused Democratic  U.S. Reps. Madelaine Dean, Chrissy Houlahan, and Mary Gay Scanlon to send a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg last month asking for a bailout from federal taxpayers. Democratic Sens. Bob Casey Jr. and John Fetterman signed the letter, as did Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia). “Without strong, sustained federal support, Pennsylvanians risk losing transit access entirely,” the lawmakers wrote. “As the Department of Transportation continues its critical work, we urge you to prioritize SEPTA and Pennsylvania’s transit systems.”

Now, there’s a chance that SEPTA may get a partial state bailout, if not a federal one.

That’s music to the ears of Democrats representing Delaware Valley in Harrisburg.

“From the ‘burbs to the city, SEPTA connects us to jobs, doctors’ appointments, recreation, shopping, and so much more,” state Sen. Maria Collett (D-Montgomery) posted on social media after learning of the federal lawmakers’ letter. She expressed gratitude for their “fighting for more federal dollars to keep this critical system afloat.”

State Rep. Morgan Cephas (D-Philadelphia) hoped Shapiro would go further. She said SEPTA needed even more cash to make sure more seniors and workers take mass transportation. “SEPTA alone moves over half a million people every day to their jobs, families, school, medical appointments, and more…”

The reasons for the declining ridership vary. Numerous complaints from riders to the Better Business Bureau focus on late buses or trains. Others complained that drivers focused more on beating red lights instead of serving customers.

Crime remains a big problem for SEPTA as well. Statistics show the number of disorderly conduct and public urination and defecation cases since 2019 have increased far higher than ridership, from 213 to more than 1,300 in 2022.

Robberies jumped from 118 in 2019 to 217 in 2021, while aggravated assaults almost doubled from 46 to 86 in the same period.

That meant significant increases in SEPTA expenses. Federal Department of Transportation (DOT) statistics show SEPTA spent $1.44 per passenger miles traveled on commuter rail in 2022 compared to 49 cents per passenger mile in 2013. For bus passengers, it was $2.66 in 2022 versus $1.09 in 2013. Streetcar rail was $2.87 in 2022 and only .94 cents in 2013.

Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41) said SEPTA gets enough money.

“Supporting SEPTA’s request for increased state subsidy is a challenging argument to make, especially in light of Philadelphia District Attorney (Larry) Krasner’s inability to maintain law and order throughout America’s sixth largest city,” he said. “No amount of increased subsidy can restore customer confidence in making use of the network given the raging crime crisis Krasner perpetuates.”

The Commonwealth Foundation said the state government needs to take a new look at how it funds mass transit.

“Several years ago, state mass transit funding was moved offline into a special fund, taking a portion of sales tax revenue and Turnpike tolls to fund transit systems,” said Nathan Benefield, the Commonwealth Foundation’s senior vice president. “Unlike the General Fund, lawmakers don’t vote on this spending every single year.

“Should lawmakers examine how much state funding goes into those programs? We think they should.”

On Feb. 6, Josh Shapiro will hold his annual budget address.

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House GOP Leader Sends Letter to Penn About Antisemitism, Veterinary School Funding

Some Pennsylvania House Republicans want to throw the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine a lifeline.

The state legislature voted against sending the veterinary school $33 million in state funding in the wake of antisemitic incidents at the University of Pennsylvania. The vote was also a response to congressional testimony from then-President Liz Magill in which she was unable to say that “calling for the genocide of Jews” violated the university’s policies, calling it “a context-dependent decision.”

Penn remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights. That office on Wednesday added neighboring Drexel University to the list of schools it is investigating for antisemitism and Islamophobia.

In a letter to Penn Interim President Dr. J. Larry Jameson and Andrew Hoffman, D.V.M., dean of the veterinary school, House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said the legislators recognize “Penn Vet’s extraordinary contributions to veterinary medicine and our state’s agricultural foundation.”

Cutler wrote that while Magill’s resignation and the creation of a university task force to address antisemitism are “good first steps toward change, these actions have yet to help students and visitors feel safe and welcomed.”

He said a group of legislators will work with university officials to achieve the goals of rooting out antisemitism.

The members include Reps. Jesse Topper (R-Bedford/Fulton), the GOP chair of the education committee; Aaron Kaufer (R-Luzerne); Bob Mercuri (R-Allegheny); Kristin Marcell (R-Bucks); and Tom Jones (R-Lancaster/Lebanon).

For funding to resume, Republicans are demanding an unequivocal statement from the Penn president or interim president that “calls for genocide against the Jewish people are not consistent with the cultural values of the university and an affirmation that this type of conduct is actionable under Penn’s code of student conduct as bullying, harassment, and intimidation.”

Also, Penn should support a package of bills to address antisemitism in the state’s “basic and higher education systems.”

Penn must also support a discussion of other free speech legislation pending in the legislature. The letter recommended a review of the university’s student organizations to ensure there is no financial support for or promotion of antisemitism.

The letter noted Pennsylvania was founded in the spirit of “religious liberty and acceptance,” and Philadelphia “was created in the image of brotherly love and toleration.”

Marcell told DVJournal, “I will always work to stand against antisemitism in Pennsylvania and our education system. I look forward to engaging with the University and working in a bipartisan manner to what should be a shared goal of eliminating this insidious form of hate.”

While they remain “supportive of Penn Vet’s contribution to Pennsylvania,” they cannot spend taxpayer money on “hate-based activities that have become so disconcerting.”

A university spokesman issued this statement in response to the legislators’ letter:

“We have received Leader Cutler’s letter and will respond shortly—interim President J. Larry Jameson and Dean Andy Hoffman appreciate that members of the legislature want to find a path forward on funding the School of Veterinary Medicine. As part of Penn’s Action Plan to Combat Antisemitism, we pledged to engage broadly and deeply and welcome input from all who share our commitment to combatting hate in all its forms.”

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GROVE: Accountability in Higher Education

“There is only one solution: Intifada revolution.” Imagine being a Jewish student at the University of Pennsylvania and hearing this chant around campus.

This isn’t a plea for peace, a cease-fire, or even a two-state solution.  It’s full-throated support of a terrorist organization, Hamas, and their goal of Jewish genocide.

Imagine then, just a short time later, the President of the college you attend says of calling for the genocide of Jews – and make no mistake, “There is only one solution: Intifada revolution” is a call for genocide – “if the speech turns into conduct, it can become harassment.”

According to CBS News, one student from Penn said: “I could not believe what I was hearing from Liz Magill and refusing to say that Jewish genocide constitutes harassment. It’s been very difficult to be a Jewish student and seeing peers and university leaders turning their backs on us.”

House Republicans are willing to lead not just with words but with action.  I, along with others, called for the resignation of President Magill after her horrific Congressional testimony.  I was pleased to see Magill’s resignation, but we cannot stop there.

At this time, given the current environment at the University of Pennsylvania, I am unwilling to provide a penny of state money to Penn.

This process started when the House returned to session this December.  House Democrats brought up funding for the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School, which requires a 2/3 affirmative vote to pass.  Enough Republicans held the line and blocked the funding.

Unfortunately, antisemitism has been allowed to percolate at Penn for years.  Under the guise of “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” events like “Palestine Writes Literature Festival” promoted antisemitic speakers.

Why? The diversity, equity, and inclusion promoted on college campuses doesn’t include pro-Israel speakers (or conservative speakers).

The university proclaimed it will “fiercely support the free exchange of ideas,” adding, “This includes the expression of views that are controversial and even those that are incompatible with our institutional values.”

This is a curious position for Penn to take, given the credible allegations of silencing female swimmers who did not feel comfortable competing with a man.  “The university wanted us to be quiet, and they did it in a very effective way,” Paula Scanlan told the Daily Wire. “They continued to tell us that our opinions were wrong and if we had an issue about it, we were the problem.”

Pennsylvania taxpayers have funded colleges and universities owned and affiliated with the Commonwealth for too long without proper oversight.  Earlier this year, my House Republican colleagues and I withheld funding for Penn State, Pitt, Temple, and Lincoln until legislation was passed to require greater transparency by further subjecting them to the Right-to-Know Law.

The days of handing blank checks to higher education institutions are over.  We are demanding transparency and a safe campus for ALL students without trampling the First Amendment.

Free Speech is the bedrock of American freedoms.  The selected speech curated on college campuses is incompatible with the First Amendment.

Protestors are free to spew hateful slogans and display despicable signs in public spaces.  As Thomas Jefferson once said, “If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed.”  It’s not the government’s job to police speech.

When that speech crosses the line to harassment, as it has at the University of Pennsylvania, we have an obligation to stop it.  Until Penn steps up and ensures a safe campus, state dollars in any form should be withheld.

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PA Public Schools: Fewer Students But More Spending

Public school enrollment is dropping in Pennsylvania, but education spending is at an all-time high, according to a state watchdog group. And that trend appears likely to continue as Democrats, including Gov. Josh Shapiro, have signaled support for increased spending on education.

At the same time, the state awaits a decision in a landmark case that could transform how public schools are funded.

According to the Commonwealth Foundation, public school enrollment has dropped by about 120,000 students since 2000. And a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics, first reported by Axios, showed the trend isn’t isolated to Pennsylvania.

Public schools across the country lost more than a million students between the fall of 2019 and the fall of 2020.

In the commonwealth, the Center found that the losses were particularly acute, with public school enrollment dipping about 5 percent over the same period, a downward spiral projected to continue through 2030.

Meanwhile, as enrollment declined, taxpayers were asked to spend more on public schools. As a result, Pennsylvania’s per-pupil costs soared to nearly $20,000 in the 2020-21 school year, the Commonwealth Foundation found, citing the most recent available data from the state Department of Education. That figure, ranking Pennsylvania eighth in the U.S., is about $4,000 more than the national average.

In some Delaware Valley communities, taxpayers are spending more than $30,000 per student.

Per-pupil figures for the 2021-22 school year will be available in April, a state DOE spokeswoman told DVJournal.

Most recent figures show per-pupil costs swelled in the Bensalem school district by nearly 25 percent since the 2011-12 school year, up from $16,975 to $20,921.

In the wealthier New Hope-Solesbury district, they jumped from $20,216 to $31,217 over the same period. The Philadelphia school district, by comparison, saw more modest increases, from $13,166 to $18,753, the data shows.

Representatives from the Pennsylvania State Education Association didn’t respond to a request for comment on school spending.

Why is it costing so much more to teach $100,000 fewer students? Nathan Benefield, vice president for the Commonwealth Foundation, pointed out that over the same period enrollments declined, the number of employees working at public schools rose by nearly 9 percent.

The state added about 20,000 employees over that period and saw a 40 percent growth among administrators.

Data previously reviewed by DVJournal showed the number of full and part-time teachers employed for the 2020-2021 school year increased to 123,461 from 119,790 in 2015-16.

Benefield juxtaposed those jumps with more students “increasingly looking for alternative options” to public schools.

“Instead of continuing to fund buildings and bureaucrats, Pennsylvania taxpayers should directly help students,” he said. “If students leave their assigned school for better educational opportunities, their portion of education funding should go with them.”

Across the country, U.S. school enrollment fell from 50.8 million students in 2019 to 49.4 million in 2020, while enrollment in private and charter schools rose, Axios reported. And the number of homeschooled students doubled to about 5 million.

Advocates for increasing taxpayer spending on shrinking classrooms argue that more money will improve educational outcomes. However, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test scores in Pennsylvania have been flat or falling for nearly a decade — a trend exacerbated by the failure of the remote education strategy used during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2019, 81 percent of Keystone State students scored at or above the basic benchmark. By 2021, that number had fallen to 76 percent.

So will school spending decline to match the ongoing trend of falling enrollment? Not likely. During last year’s campaign, Gov-elect Josh Shapiro pledged to spend more money on K-12 education in the future.

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