Aug. 16, 2019 / Weekly Roundup

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Weekly Roundup
The latest news from the State Capitol
Charter School Reform

Republicans and Democrats alike have been calling for changes to the Commonwealth’s charter school laws in order to make the charter program more transparent. Regrettably, various factors have prevented such changes from being realized. Recently, Gov. Wolf announced that he intends to act independently to bring about reforms in the state’s charter schools.

In his announcement of the reforms, Gov. Wolf offered few specifics other than seeking to limit the number of students who would be permitted to join charter schools that are performing at substandard rates and demanding that charter schools make more information public.

Charter schools in Pennsylvania currently educate around 145,000 students. Charter schools can be brick-and-mortar schools, where students physically attend, or they can be cyber programs, where students attend online. Although charter schools are operated by private entities, they are publicly funded and considered public schools. Students at charter schools, like children at conventional public schools, pay no tuition; the costs associated with their education are paid from each student’s home school district. As an example, the expense for a Greencastle resident attending a charter school would be covered by the Greencastle-Antrim School District, albeit at a reduced rate to what the school district spends on an average student in its own program.

Charter schools have been controversial. Although charter outcomes have generally been positive, some cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania have significantly underperformed.

The controversy over charter schools has been largely over state education money. By funding charter schools from school district budgets, charters effectively compete with conventional school districts. Also, charter school employees are not part of the state teachers’ union, so the teachers’ union generally opposes any expansion of charter schools.

Charter schools are intended to be incubators of innovation. They are smaller, nimbler and less expensive than conventional public schools. Charter schools can also serve communities where the school district is overburdened, or provide optimized education for students having special needs or skills unmet by their local public school. Charter schools provide options to families trapped in failing urban school districts who are unable to afford the cost of tuition at a private school. Some 70,000 of the state’s charter students live in the Philadelphia school district, one of the most underperforming public-school districts in the state. The charter school movement is, and will continue to be, a significant positive factor in Pennsylvania’s education portfolio.

However, in order to continue to be a positive force, charter schools will need to be more accountable and transparent. Any entity surviving off of public funds must be able to account for spending and student outcomes. I welcome Gov. Wolf’s interest in reform, so long as his interest is in making the charter program better, not merely overburdening it with requirements designed to keep the movement from succeeding.
Robocalls and Telephone “Spoofing”

I frequently receive requests from constituents to do something about phone scams. Although the state does operate a do not call list, phone scams typically originate from other countries, far beyond the reach and capacity to investigate of the Commonwealth. Responding to this problem, this week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced new rules that will ban malicious caller ID spoofing of text messages and foreign calls.

The rules are designed to close a loophole in existing federal law that prevented the agency from pursuing scammers sending spoofed text messages and international bad actors making spoofed calls to Americans.

Earlier this summer, the FCC approved rules that could make it easier for AT&T, Verizon and other telecom giants to block suspected spam calls on behalf of their subscribers. It allows the companies to enroll consumers in their call-blocking services by default, as opposed to waiting for customers to sign up for such tools on their own.

While these changes are important steps in the fight against robocalls and spoofing, no one expects they will result in their elimination. Protect yourself by using some of the following tips provided by the FCC: don’t answer calls from unknown numbers; due to spoofing, don’t assume when the caller ID shows a local number that the caller is actually local; if you answer and the caller asks you to press a button to stop receiving calls or asks you to say “yes” in response to a question, hang up to prevent your response from being used for unauthorized charges; and if a caller claims to be from a legitimate company or organization, hang up and call them back using a valid number found online or a recent bill if you do business with the organization.

If you have lost money because of a scam call, notify your local law enforcement agency. If you receive a spam call, file a complaint with the FCC Consumer Complaint Center. 
Fire, EMS Grant Program to Open First Week of September

Fire companies and ambulance services throughout Pennsylvania are encouraged to apply for the 2019-20 Fire Company, Emergency Medical Services Companies Grant Program from the Office of State Fire Commissioner.

The application period will open the first week of September and remain open for 45 days. Exact dates will be listed at closer to the grant application period opening.

Organizations may apply for a grant in up to two of six eligible funding categories. Those categories include: construction or renovation of a unit’s facility and purchase or repair of necessary fixtures and furnishings; purchase or repair of firefighting, ambulance or rescue equipment, including fuel for company vehicles; debt reduction related to the above categories; training and certification of members; training and education materials about fire prevention for the general public; and, for career fire departments only, overtime costs associated with backfilling positions while firefighters are attending training.

The maximum grant amount is $15,000 for fire companies and $10,000 for volunteer ambulance services. A total of $30 million will be awarded through the program, which is funded by state gaming proceeds.

For more information about the program, click here.
Law to Eliminate Inheritance Tax for Children

Children age 21 or younger who suffer the loss of a parent will no longer have to pay the state’s 4.5% inheritance tax under a new law taking effect in January.

Act 13 of 2019 reduces the inheritance tax rate to 0% for the transfer of property to or for the use of a child 21 years of age or younger from a natural parent, adoptive parent or a stepparent of the child.

A prior law implemented a 0% tax rate on transfers from a child 21 years of age or younger to his or her parent.

The law will apply to transfers from a decedent who dies after Dec. 31, 2019.
Hunter-Trapper Education Courses Available

State law requires all first-time hunters and trappers, regardless of age, to successfully complete Hunter-Trapper Education (HTE) training before they can buy a Pennsylvania hunting or trapping license.

Prospective hunters age 16 years or older may complete the study course entirely online. Or you may sign up for one of the classes being offered near you.

For a searchable database of classes currently scheduled, click here.
PennDOT’s Schedule for Aug. 19 to 23

  • Paving on Yeakle Mill Road in Warren Township
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