Redistricting: The Key to PA Election Future On February 12 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its own new congressional district map for 2018 elections by a 5 to 4 margin. To the unprejudiced eye (innocent, naïve and oblivious to political partisanship), the Court solution is unquestionably more rational. It follows the long-established county lines for Montgomery, Chester, Delaware, and Bucks, and eliminates situations like the 7th District which since 2011 has included areas of no fewer than five counties. The 7th District which sends the notorious Rep. Pat Meehan to Washington is now famous as the worst example of “Gerrymandering” in the country
Statewide, the changes are less dramatic but do restore sanity to Northeastern PA, Erie County and other western areas of Pennsylvania. The net effect of the court ordered realignment will be to overcome the highly politicized 2011 Republican manipulation of the state election district map. That alteration helped produce the injustice whereby with an essentially 50:50 state voting difference between the two parties, Republicans sent 13 to Congress to Washington (all men) against 5 Democrats. Analysts’ preliminary assessment indicate the 2018 results might well be 9 to 9 – a net 4-seat reduction in the Republicans’ present plurality of 24 in the U.S. House. Unless blocked by a successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which Republicans in Harrisburg indicate they intend to do, the new map will orient voting in the upcoming May 15 general Primary election and hence the pivotal congressional election on November 6. Right Wing legislative leaders like a Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turzai argue that the state supreme court usurped the legislature’s constitutional right to draw political maps.
Lt. Gov. Mike Stack countered by asserting that, “The Supreme Court has created a map that restores a level playing field to Pennsylvania’s congressional districts. By making every vote count, this redistricting map should ease voter cynicism and encourage new candidates and new voters to participate in our democracy.” The Committee of Seventy, Philadelphia’s independent election watchdog, indicated in a release on the matter, “The new map…while imperfect, is a clear improvement, in terms of compactness and limiting county splits.” The Committee favors a PA constitutional amendment creating an independent commission to decide districting rather than relying on the political whims of whichever major party has control of our legislature. Ted Behr email@example.com
November 17 Goodbye School Reform Commission The School Reform Commission voted itself out of existence on Thursday, November 16, 2017 - for better or for worse. The decision of the five-person commission ends the 17-year direct control of city public schools by the State of Pennsylvania through the governor’s ability to nominate the majority of the SRC members. It’s now up to Mayor James Kenny and Governor Tom Wolf to decide the fate of education for our children. What comes next is a three-step process: Mayor James Kenney’s nomination of candidates for a nine-person selection committee due in December; that committee’s further nomination of 27 candidates; and the mayor’s choosing of the 13-person Board of Education from those nominees. The new board will take over running of the schools on June 30, 2018. So the city regains control of its schools and also the daunting responsibility to arrange financing to fund them. What has always been obvious is that the state must make a major contribution to that funding – and hopefully a new day is approaching as a result of two recent court decisions: first, that the state has not met its statutory obligations in the past; and second, that the districting of the legislature does not reflect the will of the people due to gerrymandering. But in the main, the tremendous burden of improving the prospects that our kids will enter adult life with a chance for success and happiness will fall jointly on the mayor, the city council, and the governor.
The changeover comes in large measure from the election of Governor Wolf in 2014 who was able to appoint SRC members sympathetic to the need for the city to take primary responsibility for public education. A second important factor was the election of Mayor Kenney last year with a truly innovative agenda. The third component of the change has been the implacable opposition of the teacher’s union to the SRC from the first. For a thorough exposition of their views visit #SRCYaLater: The Fall--and Rise--of Local Control of Philly's Public Schools,
The major problem for many who have feared dissolution of the SRC was that by doing so, the state will have even less incentive to properly govern and fund the city schools. The answer put forward by those favoring city control is that the state control for the past 17 years has never provided a sense of ownership of our children’s schooling needs – and never will! Public outcry against discrimination in the school system is long-standing, at least dating back to the 1967 student riots for better schools – which also reflected the nation’s involvement in anti-war and civil rights movements. Readers will recall that quelling of those riots precipitated violence that was and still is attributed to the anti-black feelings of then Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo.
The imposition of the commission took place in late December 2001 and came about after announcement of a “Declaration of Distress” by the then state secretary of education Charles Zogby. The conditions in the school system were indeed chaotic in those days when it was faced with unfundable annual deficits and the expectation that they would grow to mammoth proportions in the subsequent years. The academic situation was similarly negative with a graduation rate of around 50 percent and a large proportion of the classroom employees just devoted to keeping order.
At the outset of what was expected to be an era of enlightened under Governor Ed Rendell in 2002 saw the state’s adoption of a “fair funding formula” which would have given priority in apportion state financial support of schools to those in theretofore underserved cities and rural areas. Sadly, the companion legislation to remove public school funding from local property taxes to state-wide income taxes was never accomplished, leading to the continued privation of our school system. Nothing need be said about the Governor Corbett years which were a disaster for education in cities and small towns where the local property taxes were plainly insufficient to meet the state’s constitutional mandate for a “thorough and efficient” school system. E.L. Behr
October 13 Critical Wisconsin Gerrymandering Ban Now With U.S. Supreme Court
The appeal of Wisconsin District Court's May 2017 ruling that the state’s Republicans had drawn the voting district lines unfairly received its oral hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court October 3. The practice of such unfair design of district borders to load them up with partisan voters has been known since 1812 by the term “Gerrymandering.” Questions asked during the hearing by U.S.Supreme Court justices failed to indicate one way or the other which way they will ultimately decide.
The Supreme Court decision will be momentous in deciding the fate of the similarly outrageous manipulation of voting districts in Pennsylvania. A measure of the absurd inequity is captured above by the politically motivated boundaries of the 7th Congressional District in the Philadelphia suburbs. This map was created by Republicans in 2011 to assure a solid majority of their parties voters in an otherwise Democratic area.
The abuse of political power generated by this inequitable system is indicated by the fact that in Pennsylvania there are about 900,000 (10.1%) more registered Democrats than registered Republicans. Since not all Democratic voters cast their ballots, national and statewide elections are competitive. But when the congressional voting takes place, out of the state's 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans hold 13 and Democrats hold five.
Although state by state, both Republicans and Democrats have benefitted from gerrymandering, the progressive Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the practice currently accounts for 16 or 17 current Republican seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Should the Supreme Court agree that the similar situation in Wisconsin is unconstitutional, when the next national census establishes voter numbers, there is every possibility of major shifts in legislator numbers in both Pennsylvania and U.S. House and Senate - favoring the Democrats.
The Wisconsin court noted, “This (gerrymandering) practice violates ‘the core principle of republican government, namely, that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’” Ted Behr
 Doron Taussig, “Getting to Know the Rediculous New Congressional District,” Phila.Daily News, Dec. 15, 2011
2 www.brennancenter.org/ New Report: Extreme Partisan Maps Account for 16-17 Republican Seats in Congress
October 13, 2017 Chicago Reverses Course on Soda Tax
Alert Philly citizens and food vendors will have noticed that the Cook County Board of Commissioners has unfortunately repealed its previous approval of Chicago’s 1-percent sugared beverage “soda” tax. Philadelphians for a Fair Future (PFF) noted that a major factor in this ill-conceived reversal was the millions of dollars contributed by beverage producers to influence commissioners and their constituents.
PFF emphasizes the Soda Tax benefits here in Philadelphia: first directly providing high-quality pre-K programs for an additional 2,000 young children and adding 11 new community schools which support students with medical, nutritional and behavioral health services. PFF notes that thanks to continuing Mayoral and courageous City Council support we are on track with the $500 million “Rebuild Program” that will revitalize hundreds of city parks, rec centers, playgrounds, and libraries throughout the city.
Second, and perhaps more important long-term is that residents are beginning to realize the health and quality of life benefits of weaning kids off sugar-sweetened soft drinks: Helping avoid overweight and obesity; lower risk of diabetes; and reduced blood sugar impact on heart and joints.
Noteworthy is the fact that Coca-Cola is now putting big bucks behind its new more descriptive brand “Coke Zero Sugar” to replace “Coke Zero.” Blogs from Canada where it was already introduced include observations that “It’s better than “Coke Zero,” and “…Tastes more like the original “Coke.” Here is one beverage maker that is reading the handwriting on the wall and getting on the non-sugar bandwagon.
For further details, visit www.facebook.com/fairfuturephilly Ted Behr
March 17, 2017 The Cost of New Charter School “Seats” Ted Behr State Rep. Mike Turzai of Pittsburgh has proposed House Bill 700 in the Pennsylvania House that would require the School District of Philadelphia to open at least 3,000 more charter school seats a year. Other than his strong preference for such school in general, Turzai bases his initiative an estimated 30,000 children on waiting lists for charters around the state. We know that based upon his track record on other issues, Turzai is the ultimate political animal. What clear-thinking citizen doesn’t recall his infamous statement at the time of the passage of the ill-fated state Voter ID legislation in 2012 on that issue and in two other questionable areas, ““Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done. First pro-life legislation – abortion facility regulations – in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.
The introduction to Turzai’s bill No. 700 follows these misguided political intersts, and reads in part, “Charter schools are a lifeline for children who otherwise would be forced to attend poorly performing schools based solely on their residence.” He avoids mention that his “poorly performing” school label is due in large part to the fact that his consesvative Republicans in Harrisburg have been starving the our public schools for more than a decade. In any case, the current status of charter school expansion shows that public charters comprise about 65,000 students in the Philadelphia School District or 32 percent of the total in 86 schools.
There are three issues that Turzai’s initiative ignores: 1. The laws governing oversight of charter school operation and financing are badly outdated and badly in need of strengthening – according to State Auditor General Eugene Depasquale. 2. Funds diverted to private and charter schools by private taxpayers as tax deductible charitable donations take tax funds away from state revenue which should be available to all schools, public and private and subject to the priorities (and oversight) for education as a whole. 3. Every time a student departs the public school system for the seat in a charter, he or she leaves behind what are known as “stranded costs.” To understand what a “stranded cost” means, imagine a public school classroom with 33 students of which 3 enroll and leave for a charter. With them go the state subsidies which support our impoverished Philadelphia School District (SDP). But the school still has to pay the teacher in front of the class, heat and maintain the school building, and cover the costs for the district itself.
Last week, the SDP released a study Boston Consulting Group estimate that indicates that the district absorbs about $4,824 per year in such stranded costs every time a child leaves to attend a charter-operated school. While the calculation is very complicated – taking into consideration debt service on loans - the net impact of the 3000 in annual migration to charters proposed by Rep. Turzai is an immense burden on the public school system. While some expense savings are possible when 25 percent of the public school students leave for charters, it takes time for the PSD to react, and there are limits to what can be saved.
For instance, the report indicates another salient fact: Because of lower salaries and benefits, charters could afford 3 teachers for the cost of every 2 at the District. The SDP spent 42% more per average teacher in FY14, due primarily to higher average salaries and total benefits at the District.
“This report reaffirms much of what we knew about stranded costs and it highlights the complexities and constraints of operating in a large urban school district, with a charter law that needs real reform,” said Joyce Wilkerson, Chair of the School Reform Commission in the SDP press release on the study. “We need a charter law that allows The School District of Philadelphia to operate a logical school system that focuses on quality public education and puts the children of Philadelphia first.”
Added Uri Monson, the PSD Chief Financial Officer, “Some of the constraints that lead to stranded costs… can be mitigated with action by SDP…by layoffs and school closures. Continuing to grow and improve District-managed schools, and attracting students back to great schools near where they live, would also mitigate these fiscal challenges for the District.”
Let’s keep in mind that the present unsatisfactory conditions and poor educational outcomes our Philadelphia children are experiences are due to the harsh, uncaring actions to reduce school funding under Gov. Tom Corbett (and his helpers in the Republican- controlled legislature) during his 4-year administration. If upon reflection you feel that Rep. Turzai’s charter school expansion bill #700 is unjustified, let alone being unjust, let him know by phoning his office in Harrisburg, 717-772-9943 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are in contact with him, also ask him to pass on your views to Pres. Trump’s new Secretary of Education in Washington, Betsy DeVos.  National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, www.publiccharters.org/  The Morning Call Newspaper, March 16, 2017 www.mcall.com/opinion/yourview/mc-charter-school-law-pennsylvania-depasquale  School District Release: https://webapps.philasd.org/news-files/pr-files/20170306_SDP_Summary_Outcomes.pdf
Election 2016: Did We Do Our Part in Southwest? Nationally & Statewide, Democrats failed to turn out! November 18, 2016
The election results have given the presidency to Donald F. Trump, mystifying a majority of Americans and the international world. Secretary Clinton did win the overall popular vote by an unprecedented margin of 1.1 million votes which is increasing due to mailed-in and other late voting counts. Unfortunately, under our system of electoral college balloting by state, Mr. Trump presently has 306 electoral votes against 232 for Mrs. Clinton or 36 more that he needed to win the presidency. It is also noteworthy that an estimated shift of only 55,000 votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconson would have allowed Clinton to be elected.
The weight of the presidential race permitted Sen. Pat Toomey to retain his seat in the U.S. Senate over Democrat Katie McGinty. The ugliness of that campaign on both sides was sickening, but it suffices to say that PA Democratic voters lost a chance to send a uniquely qualified environmental expert to Washington just when her advocacy is so vitally needed there. Because final voting results on a ward-by-ward basis have not yet been released, it is not possible to compare Southwest turnout in this year’s election with voting in past presidential contests. Nevertheless, some conclusions can be reached and inferences drawn. For instance, voting tallies for the five state representatives who serve a portion of Southwest indicate a strong increase in voting. All of these candidates were incumbent Democrats who mostly ran unopposed. Nevertheless, with their own efforts and a that of a number of unions and outside “get out the vote” groups, the voting showed a very creditable increase in 2016 as compared with 2012 – when president Obama headed the ballot! Total Vote Count to Date for State Reps. Donatucci, Harris, Roebuck, Brown and McClinton: 2012: 112,579 votes vs 2016: 119,894. The increase for Secretary Clinton: 7,315 votes or 6.3 percent. Many contributing factors? Yes, but credit each of these State elected officials with providing strong constituent services and consistent legislative performance that tried to meet the needs of our community. They did their job, and Southwest voters responded.
Statewide, the voting results were drastically different. Of some 4.2 million registered PA Democrats, only 2.8 million actually went to the polls or 67.4 percent. Of the 3.3 registered Republicans, 2.9 million or 88.2 percent voted, giving Mr. Trump a margin of 66,300 votes to win the state’s 20 electoral votes – Remember that number!
Had there been a better turnout in Philadelphia, the results statewide could have been dramatically different.
Philadelphia shows some 853,100 residents on the Democratic voter rolls as against only 125,500 registered Republicans. Of these only 563,300 Democrats (66.0 percent) vs. 105,900 Republicans (84.3 percent) voted this year. This means the Democratic City Committee failed to organize their constituency and get them to the voting booths to the tune of 289,800 votes – far more than enough to overcome Mr. Trump's plurality elsewhere in the state!
Another point of comparison: In the four other counties in SE Pennsylvania that surround Philadelphia, the Democratic turnout was and astounding 90.9 percent.
As we pointed out two years ago at the time Gov. Tom Wolf was elected to office, it was not that he generated a huge Democratic turnout to defeat incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. Rather, Gov. Wolf won because more than 200,000 Republicans, mostly women, didn’t show up to vote! This year, that number of formerly disenchanted conservatives were sufficiently motivated by Mr. Trump’s promises and Mrs. Clinton’s shortcomings to give him Pennsylvania. Obviously, it would have to take a similar reversal in at least one more major state to swing the national election, but that doesn’t in the least excuse the dismal performance of the Democratic City Committee and its leadership.
When it comes time for another new energy and competence to our City Committee. election of Democratic City Committeepersons, public- and party-minded residents should seriously consider running for that office with an eye to bringing
Jan. 23, 2015:Thank You, Dr. King There has been a growing and worthy tradition each year on the day we honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Thousands of children mount stages, stand before their peers, parents and friends, and give excerpts from the classic “I have a dream” speech. And where opportunities are provided for reflection, as they should, we rehearse again the circumstances which were the proximate cause of his death: his travels to Memphis, Tennessee, to support with his presence and encourage by his words the efforts of that city’s 1300 striking black sanitation workers to obtain union recognition and as a consequence a living wage and basic health benefits.
Three weeks prior to his fateful final visit, Dr. King had traveled to Memphis to rally support of the black religious community for the striking workers’ cause. He said then, “You are demonstrating that we are all tied in a single garment of destiny, and that if one black person suffers, if one black person is down, we are all down. ”
Again in Memphis in early April, the exhausted King confided to a small group of the workers and his band of civil rights leaders, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life… But I'm not concerned about that now… I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land”
Our own best sense of the deep compassion that was at the core of Dr. King’s being are taken from his words of comfort for the family and friends of the four children who killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in September 1963: Addie Mae Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Cynthia Diane Wesley and Carole Robertson.
“These children… have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows; to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism… to every Negro who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice… and to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution.
“Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.
“Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people… Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men…
“But, if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”
These are words for the ages, but they are also backed by commitment and a willingness to sacrifice that puts iron in those words. As Dr. King’s mentor and Savior said to us all, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. By: Ted Behr