people on the hill and in the news


Research from the George Washington University paints a clear picture as lawmakers consider legislation to modernize Pennsylvania’s outdated nurse practitioner law. Two new studies found that outdated nurse practitioner licensure laws do nothing to improve the quality of patient care, and that nurse practitioners deliver health care that is on par with physicians.

The first study compared nurse practitioner (NP) care quality in states where NPs have full practice authority versus sates like Pennsylvania with outdated laws.

If restrictions like Pennsylvania’s current law were beneficial to patients, researchers reasoned, NPs in states like PA would have better health care outcomes. But, “Findings from this study did not conform to this pattern. In fact, state independence had no statistically significant effect on any of the three quality indicators studied.”

Senate Bill 25 would modernize PA law by removing a mandate for NPs to secure business contracts, called collaborative agreements, with two physicians in order to practice.

The study found these contracts are not necessary to ensure that NPs collaborate with physicians. To the contrary, researchers found: “NP visits in states with practice independence had a higher odds of receiving physician referrals than those in restricted states.”

SB25 has been endorsed by AARP Pennsylvania, the Hospital and Healthsystems Association of PA, the PA Rural Health Association, and numerous other stakeholders.

The second study reiterated the quality of nurse practitioner-delivered health care in community health centers. “The researchers found that visits to nurse practitioners and physician assistants received similar quality, services and referrals as those made to physicians.”

“Findings from our study should be reassuring to patients who rely on community health centers for their care,” said Ellen Kurtzman, associate professor in the GW School of Nursing and lead author of the paper, in a press release. “We found that care is likely to be comparable regardless of whether patients are seen by a nurse practitioner, physician assistant or physician.”

The results mirror hundreds of other studies over the past decades. In fact, numerous researchers have documented improved patient health outcomes as a result of modern NP laws. The National Academy of Medicine and the Federal Trade Commission reviewed all available evidence and concluded that patients would benefit from modern NP laws.

“These studies make it clear: modernizing Pennsylvania’s nurse practitioner law would increase access to health care without giving up one iota of quality,” said Lorraine Bock, President of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Nurse Practitioners.

“Pennsylvania should stop leaving patients behind and join the 22 states that already give nurse practitioners full practice authority.”

About Full Practice Authority for Nurse Practitioners

Nurse practitioners (NPs), also called Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners (CRNPs) or Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners (ARNPs), have graduate, advanced education, with master’s degrees or doctorates and are nationally certified in their specialty areas. Among their many services NPs order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests; diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections and injuries; prescribe medications and other treatments; and manage a patient’s care. Over 100 studies have proven that NPs provide safe, high-quality health care.

Currently, in order to practice, a nurse practitioner must secure business contracts called collaborative agreements with two physicians. Researchers – including physicians and nurse practitioners alike – have proven that this mandate offers no patient health benefits. To the contrary, research shows that the mandate restricts access to care and correlates with worse patient health outcomes.

Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia are already using full practice authority to expand access to care, especially for underserved rural areas and patients with Medicaid insurance.



Even though Gov. Tom Wolf has signed legislation that will create statewide regulations governing transportation network companies, at least one lawmaker says the new act has Pennsylvania traveling into risky territory – and he’s potentially looking at suing to stop it.

“I’m not going to let this go; I’m adamant about declaring the [retroactive penalty] provision inappropriate and strip it,” said Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. “What mechanism we use, I don’t know, but that’s what I’m looking to do.”  Sen. Costa also said he wouldn’t rule out filing a lawsuit.

While Act 164 of 2016, previously Senate Bill 984, is billed as ensuring the operations of ride-sharing companies, like Uber and Lyft, are properly regulated in Pennsylvania, there’s a lot more to the new law, and that’s what Costa said worries him.

“The thing that I most object to is the provision in the bill which, in my view, is special legislation for one entity, that undermines the rulemaking and enforcement of a quasi-judicial agency, the PUC [Public Utility Commission],” said Costa.

The provision in question states: “A person or entity which, as determined by the commission, operated as a transportation network company prior to the effective date of this section without proper authority from the commission shall be subject to a penalty not to exceed $1,000 per day or a maximum penalty not to exceed $250,000, notwithstanding the number of violations that occurred during the period in which the person or entity operated without authority.”

In April, the PUC voted 3-2 to adopt a joint motion ordering Uber to pay over $11 million in civil penalties for “unlawful operations” in violation of the PUC Code by “providing regulated passenger transportation service without a certificate of public convenience” from the PUC.

The penalty is currently under appeal in Commonwealth Court, and when the fine was issued, some Republican and Democratic elected officials – including Gov. Wolf himself – questioned the severity of the fine.

Costa argues the Pennsylvania Supreme Court employs a test regarding special legislation which depends on whether treating a particular class differently under the legislation is founded on real distinctions and not artificial differences used to evade the constitution. The court has held that “classification is per se unconstitutional when the class consists of one member and it is impossible or highly unlikely that another can join the class,” said Costa.

Costa said the PUC did also penalize another riding-sharing company – Lyft – which reached a $250,000 settlement in July 2015 with the PUC for, like Uber, unauthorized operations. Uber’s April 2016 penalty was $11 million, and appears to be the only one that would be affected by the new act.

Therefore, argues Costa, the retroactive section of SB984 violates Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which prohibits the General Assembly from passing “local or special law in any case which has been or can be provided for by general law,” and, within the section’s specifications, forbids “remitting fines, penalties and forfeitures, or refunding moneys legally paid into the treasury.”

Costa’s argument runs into a bit of difficulty, according to other readers of Act 164’s language.

“Based on numerous conversations with legislative leaders throughout the process, it is our understanding that the language regarding fines is intended to address future actions,” said PUC press secretary Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.

Costa has said during committee meetings and floor debate the legislation establishes some dangerous precedents.

Costa again expressed Friday that if the Legislature can undo a fine imposed by a regulatory agency like the PUC, there would appear to be little to prevent a future General Assembly and compliant governor from undoing a fine imposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection or another government agency.

With this new law “you’re saying it’s okay to change that [an imposed fine] for a specific company, retroactively,” which undermines the ability of any governmental agency to ensure compliance with its regulations, said Costa.

Senate Republican leaders have said there is no intent by the Legislature with this act to affect the PUC penalty assessed to Uber. They have also explained, as Hagen-Frederiksen stated, the language is written to address penalties that have yet be ordered by the commission, not ones that have already been finalized.

Senate GOP spokeswoman Jenn Kocher reiterated that position. “We feel this does not affect the Uber situation, as that has been finalized by the PUC, and there’s no other action that can be taken by the PUC unless ordered by the court,” said Kocher.

Kocher also said it’s possible there are other PUC actions about which we have not yet been made aware, and for which no fine has yet been imposed, so there could be more than one matter affected by the Act 164 provision.

“It doesn’t matter what the intent is if the plain language is clear,” Costa said, noting that intent is only of interest to the courts when judges can’t clearly discern what a law does. “This plain language is clear.”

“Now that the governor has signed this, Uber doesn’t have to make the payment, and I don’t know if anyone is going to come back and say they have to – I’m mean, who’s gonna make them pay it now, when you read it and it says they don’t have to pay it?” said Costa. “It’s crazy.”

Costa made it clear he’s only focused on the retroactive penalty language within the bill.

“I’m very supportive of the underlying bill – I voted for it in the past,” he said. “I think it’s a good step in the right direction, a good beginning.”

He did note there are a few items on which he and Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny, are working for next session to address “provisions that should be applied statewide” but are currently only available to Philadelphia.

However, while Costa approves of much of the legislation, some have noted Act 164 doesn’t contain a severability clause – which allows the rest of a law to remain in effect even if a particular portion of it is found to be unconstitutional.

If Costa should sue, and he should be successful, that could likely force the General Assembly to pass new ride-sharing legislation.


Seasonal workers will once again be allowed to get unemployment compensation when their jobs end thanks to legislation signed into law on Nov. 3 by Gov. Tom Wolf.

“This is going to help ensure seasonal workers – those who need unemployment insurance – will have better and more efficient access to those funds. While there are many people who need unemployment insurance to get them through periods of unemployment or underemployment, our seasonal workers, in such industries as construction, use these funds to make it through the winter months … this is important to all of us,” said Gov. Wolf at the signing.

Proponents of Act 144 of 2016, formerly House Bill 319, say it’s intended to fix an unemployment compensation (UC) unintended consequence created by Act 60 of 2012.

Gov. Wolf, Rep. John Galloway, D-Bucks, and Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, all praised the bi-partisan effort to accomplish the changes. Galloway and Baker, along with Reps. Lee James, R-Venango, Mauree Gingrich, R-Lebanon, Seth Grove, R-York, Marc Gergely, D-Allegheny, and Sens. Tina Tartaglione, D-Philadelphia, and John Gordner, R-Columbia, were credited with helping making Act 144 a reality.

Noting the difficulties of getting Act 60 passed, Baker said initially, “There was not much enthusiasm for going right back into it [Act 60] to tackle the unintended consequences and to jeopardize what had been accomplished to set the [UC] Fund to solvency.”

But she said “those who committed to finding this answer today” were to be credited for developing a “responsible remedy” that doesn’t disrupt Act 60’s path to UC Fund solvency but still ensures seasonal workers, who she said she likes to refer to as “cyclical workers,” are treated properly.

“I’m proud of our partnership on this issue, and on many issues; we’ve got some important things done – I don’t think there’s anything we’ve gotten done, working together, that’s more important than this,” said  Gov. Wolf.

Act 60 implemented measures to reduce approximately $4 billion in debt to the federal government and address the long-term solvency of Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system. Post-Act 60, approximately 44,000 seasonal workers were disqualified from collecting unemployment compensation. Seasonal workers who earned 50.5 percent of their annual income or more in one quarter of the year have been ineligible for benefits since the enactment of Act 60. Prior to Act 60, the limit was 63 percent.

“Act 60 really had unintended consequences, particularly for the construction industry, the pipeline industry, the nuclear industry, the power suppliers and even the highway industry,” said Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, following the bill signing. “What you had is employees with a bulk of hours in one [employment] quarter, and you can’t get 50 percent of that in follow-up quarters.”

“This kinda levels that all off and neutralizes that problem so that the people that are doing are infrastructure, who are sometimes mandated by law – especially in the highway industry – that they’re not allowed to work at certain times of the year, that they will now be covered by benefits,” said Sirianni.

In addition to reducing from 49.5 percent to 37 percent the percentage of base-year wages earned by an employee outside their highest quarter of earnings (thereby restoring the percentage that existed prior to Act 60), the new act also:

  • Increases the reserve ratio factor for certain employers, increasing UC premiums for a limited number of employers with the very worst records of laying-off employees;
  • Adds anti-fraud and amnesty provisions to, according to bill supporters, ensure additional equity and fairness exists in the UC system;
  • Reduces benefits and caps the increase in benefits for employees at the upper end of the income/benefits scale; and
  • Implements triggers which would compare projected UC Fund solvency dates with actual solvency dates, and then institute cost-saving measures – reductions of unemployment benefits – if solvency was not being met as required by the Act 60 timetable.

Opponents of the legislation caution that Act 60’s path to solvency for the UC Fund (to occur by 2026 prior to Act 144) could be negatively affected by the addition of tens of thousands of seasonal workers, since they will add to the already higher-than-projected state unemployment rate.

Rep. Gordner, Act 60’s author, prior to the bill’s approval by the state Senate, noted Act 60’s solvency provisions assumed state unemployment rates closer to 5 percent, but Pennsylvania’s rate is currently 5.7 percent, and has been above 5 percent now for six-straight months.

While he noted concerns in the short term, Gordner acknowledged if the state can avoid another unemployment spike – similar to what occurred following the 2008-09 recession – during the next three or so years, Act 144‘s cost-saving measures to be implemented in 2020 will be beneficial to the UC Fund.

When asked about potential concerns about exposing the state to greater UC Fund insolvency risk in the short term, Gov. Wolf said the act contains “so many conditional elements that those possibilities, however remote they are, that the solvency of the fund is in good shape.”

“I think they have done a remarkable job of trying to take all the contingencies into account,” said Wolf of Act 144’s authors.

Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said the act includes several solvency “triggers” – which she said were “key to Senate passage” of the legislation – that “in the event that we hit one of those triggers, we will have savings and [benefit] reductions, beginning as early as 2017.”

In fact, Act 144 supporters claim those savings provisions will help to, potentially, bring the UC Fund to solvency, earlier than originally planned by Act 60 – maybe 2024 or 2025, instead of 2026.

To accomplish that, benefits will be reduced by 2 percent across the board starting next year, with the maximum weekly benefit declining from $573 to $561, and it would stay there through 2019. From 2020 through 2023, the growth of that maximum benefit would be capped at 2 percent, with that cap increased to 4 percent for 2024 and thereafter. The across-the-board 2-percent benefit reduction is expected to produce $44 million in annual savings, while the post-2024 4-percent cap is projected to deliver at least $400 million of savings annually, which is expected to grow each year thereafter.

Before Act 144, Act 60 reduced the rate of growth of the maximum weekly benefit, first freezing it at $573 through 2019, and then capping its growth at 8 percent from 2020 through 2023. After 2023, the pre-Act 60 environment would have returned with the maximum benefit being two-thirds of the average weekly wage.

In addition to three new solvency triggers – which reduce unemployment benefits for claimants if the UC Fund balance isn’t where it’s supposed to be – and the anti-fraud and “bad-actor” penalties for beneficiaries and employers, the changes are projected to save the UC Fund as much as $1.5 billion over six years while making more seasonal workers eligible for benefits, according to proponents.

The Senate voted 39-8 and the House voted 161-30 to send HB319 to Gov. Wolf’s desk for his signature.

That wasn’t the only UC bill to come up in discussions during and after the bill signing


Despite the fact that no Republican presidential candidate had carried Pennsylvania in a

generation and no other Republican had won a statewide election in five years, Donald Trump

took  the Keystone State, beating Hillary Clinton by 50,000 votes.  Mrs. Clinton managed to carry only 11 counties in the state, several by razor-thin margins.

Adding to that electoral success was the victory of U.S. Senator Pat Toomey who bested Katie McGinty by almost 90,000  The race was the most expensive and closely watched in the country.

Although they lost the three statewide “row offices,” Republicans also managed to pad their already substantial majorities in both legislative chambers.  In the Senate Republicans now have a super-majority 34 seats and in the House Republicans boosted their advantage to at least 122. And any notions about the “inevitability” of Senator Bob Casey’s re-election should be put to rest.

Change beat anything else

Many Democrats believed that a significant demographic advantage would propel Hillary

Clinton into the history books as the first woman president.  They didn’t take into account the

“mood” advantage that the Republicans had going for them.  Every survey showed that voters

were in a foul mood, angry and clamoring for change. Nearly 70 percent said they thought the country was headed in the wrong direction.   That didn’t bode well for a woman seeking to be the third term of the incumbent president.  She shopped her extensive resume at a time when voters

wanted anything but.  Trump was the outsider.  She was the “incumbent.”  He won. She lost.

Republicans came home. Democrats stayed home.

In a contest between the two least liked candidates in the era of modern polling, Donald Trump ultimately prevailed because his base turned out while Hillary’s did not.  Trump had tremendous senthusiasm going for him.  All you needed to do was drive down one of Pennsylvania’s back roads and see the handmade signs boldly proclaiming “Trump.”  Meanwhile there was a distinct aura of apathy among Clinton’s base.  They didn’t like Trump, but they weren’t so thrilled with her, either.

​            Donald Trump needed to garner 90 percentof the Republican vote, something no winning GOP candidate had ever failed to do.  For much of the campaign he languished in the 70’s, below the level Barry Goldwater received in the 1964 landslide.  By mid-October he was in the mid 80’s.  On election night he hit 90.  Meanwhile Hillary Clinton underperformed among just about every key demographic.

Television advertising doesn’t buy as much these days

Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump by nearly 4:1 in television advertising.  She hammered away at his main vulnerability–his “temperament.” Her message was ubiquitous.  It didn’t work.

It was partially because voters wanted more than simply anti-Trump rhetoric.  It was also an indication of the shifts in how Americans receive information and make decisions.  Donald

Trump’s 15 million Twitter followers were as big an advantage as Hillary Clinton’s millions of

dollars in  advertising.

“Tax and Spend” is a losing message with working families

The Trump and Toomey victories, coupled with the gains Republicans made in the General Assembly here and across America were a clear repudiation of the policies of the last eight years. Obama may be personally popular for the time being, but his policies are not.  Nor are those of his political acolytes like Tom Wolf.  Although I know they aren’t taking my advice,

another budget containing big government spending and additional high taxes on working

families is a big loser.


The Pennsylvania Senate is evaluating the future of a unique Pennsylvania industry which has generated up to 10 percent of the state’s electric power needs over the past three decades while cleaning up acid mine drainage and pollution along 1,200 miles of streams in the state and reduced air pollution from wild fires, all while recycling 200 million tons of coal waste and reclaiming 7,000 acres of abandoned coal mine land.

Beginning in the 1980s, independent electric power producers erected 14 state-of-the-art power plants across the Anthracite and bituminous coal fields of the state using high-efficiency fluidized bed boilers to generate electricity and take advantage of special, guaranteed power rates then available under state law.  Over the years, the preferential power rates expired as the electric generating industry moved to a demand-driven market model.  To keep the coal refuse industry competitive and able to continue its privately funded environmental cleanup model, the Commonwealth instituted a tax credit program of $4 a ton to incentivize utilization of coal wastes.  The total annual tax credit was capped at $7.5 million a year and is scheduled to increase to $10 million a year in 2017.

In preparation for a progress report to the Senate Environmental Protection Committee this month, ARIPPA, a coal waste industry trade association, commissioned an environmental and economic impact report from Econsult Solutions, a Philadelphia research firm.

Econsult looked at the yearly and total benchmarks achieved by the waste coal cleanup effort and projected out expected benefits for the next 20 years if the program continues to perform at or near current capacity.

The study found that:

  • 200 million tons of coal refuse had been recovered and recycled into fuel.
  • 7,000 acres of abandoned coal lands and refuse piles had been re-contoured for new, productive uses.
  • Acid mine drainage and other pollution of 1,200 miles of streams have been remediated.
  • At peak capacity, the 14 power plants were generating 1.4 megawatts of electricity, sufficient to supply one million homes.
  • The industry directly employed more than 1,500 skilled workers earning an average of $70,000 a year and indirectly supported another 3,000 jobs in nearby communities.
  • The total economic impact of the coal waste industry in Pennsylvania is about $740 million a year.
  • The total value of the environmental cleanup to be provided to the Commonwealth at no cost to the taxpayer over the next 20 years is estimated at more than $500 million.

“The coal refuse recycling incentive is unique to Pennsylvania among the mining states,” George Ellis, ARIPPA executive director, noted. “Our members are providing a valuable service to future generations of Pennsylvanians by cleaning up the historic scars of more than two centuries of mining, at no cost to taxpayers.  At the same time, we generate clean electricity.  It’s been a hugely successful partnership.”

Ellis presented the Econsult report at a recent hearing conducted by the state Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee held in Jim Thorpe, in the heart of the anthracite field.

“We’ve made steady progress over the last two decades in removing coal refuse and turning it into energy, along with beneficial ash that can be recycled and used to remediate mining sites and in products such as concrete and asphalt.  We generate electricity in order to pay for our environmental activities – the removal of abandoned coal refuse piles and the remediation and restoration of coal refuse affected sites.  If our industry does not survive, the cleanup becomes the responsibility of the commonwealth and its taxpayers,” Ellis told the committee.

Ellis urged the committee to preserve the recently adopted tax credit measure and to explore other opportunities for economic support and regulatory relief that would help to keep the plants operating.

# # #

(The complete Econsult report is available at

Feeling Confident: Steps to Saving More

*In 2016, 21% of U.S. workers said they were very confident they would have enough money for a comfortable retirement. This was about the same percentage as in 2015, but both years showed a big increase in confidence from the 13% level in 2013, when many Americans were still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.1

When it comes to your own retirement, of course, trends don’t really matter. The question is, do you feel very confident that you will have enough money to enjoy the kind of retirement you envision? Even if you do, it’s smart to save more, and it may not be as difficult as you think.

Take the Match                                                
If you participate in a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan, you can choose to contribute a specific percentage of your salary, up to annual contribution limits. That’s why they are formally called defined-contribution plans. More than half of workplace plans automatically enroll new workers at a 4% rate.2 However, a common guideline suggests that workers should save about 15% of their salaries, and you may need to save more if you get a late start.

One of the best ways to boost your savings is to take advantage of any matching funds offered by your employer. For example, if your employer will match 50% of your contributions up to 6% of your salary, saving 6% on your part would result in saving 9% of your salary (6% from you and 3% from your employer).

Increase by Increments
How can you save even more? You might try increasing your contributions by 1% each year. Some employers may increase your contributions automatically (unless you opt out), but you can choose to do so on your own, whether you participate in a plan or save outside of the workplace. A 1% increase may not sound like much, but it could make a big difference over the course of your career (see chart).

Here are three other ways to save without making a big sacrifice in your cash flow.

Save your raise. When you receive a raise, it’s tempting to increase your spending, but this is a great opportunity to boost your retirement savings by diverting a portion of the raise into your retirement account. And when you contribute on a pre-tax basis, the difference in your take-home pay may not be significant.

Make payments toward your future. If you pay off the balance on a car loan, student loan, or credit card, consider making the same monthly payments directly to your retirement account. Because the payment is already part of your monthly budget, you could increase your savings without reducing the amount available for other expenses.

Limit the treats. You deserve an occasional reward, but spending on “little things” can add up over time. For example, if you stop for a $4 latte each day on your way to work and have another one in the afternoon, you would spend about $175 each month. If the same amount was instead invested monthly in an account earning a 6% annual return, you could accumulate more than $100,000 after 25 years.3

Happy Investing!

Scott C. Weaver.

1) Employee Benefit Research Institute, 2016
2) Aon, 2016
3) This hypothetical example is used for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any specific investment. Fees, expenses, and taxes are not considered and would reduce the performance described if they were included. Actual results will vary.
The information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. You are encouraged to seek tax or legal advice from an independent professional advisor. The content is derived from sources believed to be accurate. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. This material was written and prepared by Emerald. Copyright 2016 Emerald Connect, LLC.


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By Charlie Gerow


There are certainly valid arguments for reducing the number of school districts in Pennsylvania.  “A European Union for education” and a reversion to thoroughly discredited “outcomes-based education” are not among them.


When Governor Pinchot was in office Pennsylvania didn’t have 500 school districts.  There were more than 2,500 in those days.  The 500 we now have represents dramatic consolidations, both legislatively and judicially mandated, in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.


There are, no doubt, some districts that may want or need to merge with adjacent districts.  The main reasons cited for such mergers is the potential cost savings and an improved educational product and student achievement.


Local school district choice, not mandates from the legislature or the courts, should determine whether or not there are such mergers.


School districts along the Mason Dixon Line have bandied about the concept of consolidation for years, looking below the border to Maryland which, like neighboring Virginia, has county-wide school districts.


Yet when the Independent Fiscal Office did a study of the 15 school districts in York County, they determined that merging those districts into a single county-wide district would not save the taxpayers any money.  It suggested that such a move would both result in higher taxes for middle-income earners but would also produce only minimal savings in administrative costs.


Administrative costs have been a growing concern for taxpayers across the state.  With superintendents and top administrators typically making deep into six figure salaries, those paying the bills have long wondered if there aren’t ways to economize.


However, the consolidations that have occurred have not produced the promised or hoped for savings.  There are a variety of factors not related to the consolidations that account for this, but it is safe to say that consolidation isn’t necessarily a financial panacea.


Ultimately, whether or not mergers produce substantial savings hinges on whether or not the consolidated districts will do what’s necessary to curtail administrative expenses and reduce per-pupil costs.


Mergers  and consolidations have not  always produced higher quality education or improved student performance.  Some studies suggest the opposite has been the case.


Additionally there have been other impacts that were not intended consequences of these mergers.  Consolidations have often produced a sense of loss of community.  This has been especially seen in sports, band and other extracurricular activities and opportunities for kids.


In Arkansas, where more than a third of their districts merged in the past dozen years, businesses closed and kids’ school bus rides got a lot longer.  One superintendent called it “the disenfranchisement of communities.”  He added, “I haven’t seen an increase in academic progress that I think we would have seen.”


Yet as communities struggle with skyrocketing pension obligations and administrative costs they’re looking for any reasonable solution.


They should certainly be able to merge, consolidate or merely cooperate with neighboring districts.  To require them to merge would be a public policy mistake.  Because of the impact on individual students and their local communities, local choice must be the by-word for any consideration of school district mergers.


Let’s not forget that we already have one county-wide school system.  It’s the School District of Philadelphia.  You can judge for yourself how that’s working for cost-saving and student achievement.





By Angelique H. Caffrey

April 2014 Rep. Roebuck


“I never thought I would say this was my profession.”  It’s an honest – and revealing – remark from a PA Representative who has held his seat since the mid-1980s.  Although he admits he had an interest in politics from about the age of 10, James Roebuck, Jr. never consciously intended to become a legislator.

Growing up in Philadelphia, he was a member of a politically active church, Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church.  The pastor at the time was well-known as an agent of social change, and was the first African-American asked to speak at a Democratic convention in the earlier part of the 20th century.  “My church was involved in the civil rights movement, and actively pursued policies.  It wasn’t unusual for major politicians to speak at our Sunday services – that was normal,” he explains.  “I stood on corner and collected money for NAACP – everyone was about making the world a better place.  Many years later, I was on a trip to Israel, and a member of the trip mentioned that he had been a speaker at our church!  It was a magnet for people.”

Roebuck left the Philadelphia area after graduating from an academically-driven high school, Central High School.  The all-boys institute of learning prepared him well for college at the Virginia Union, where he graduated with honors in only three years.  He received a Master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, and served as an educator at Drexel University.  While back in Philadelphia, he saw the need for change and eventually moved into the political realm.  “I got a job in city government, and shortly after, the Representative died.  I received the endorsement and won in June during a special election… right in the middle of budget time!” he adds with a chuckle.

He would be the first to admit that the 188th congressional district he represents is very diverse across all levels from social to economic, which brings unique challenges.  At the same time, he’s proud to serve an extremely tolerant community accepting of differences among individuals.  Over his more than 30 years in the House, he’s been able to influence changes, including pushing more negotiation and compromise between members of the parties.  He wants to see more of this in the coming years.  “In the 1980s, we could have debates and differences on the House floor.  But afterwards we could go out together.  Nothing was locked in stone.”  His goal is to forge relationships beyond members of opposing political parties.  “When you make friends, you understand issues better.”

Roebuck may no longer teach history, but it still plays a huge role in his life.  He’s a voracious reader, enjoying books on everything from the liberal party in England to early African-American entrepreneurs.  When he was younger, he traveled extensively, visiting Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Caribbean, among other countries.  A Fulbright grant enabled to spend the summer in India and Pakistan.  Yet he was always glad to come back to the states.  “You realize the quality of life is better than anything you would experience anywhere else.  The freedom is greater.  We are a beacon and model for the world.”

To give back to the young people in the 188th district, Roebuck has joined a tutoring program at a local elementary school.  There, he helps children as young as first grade improve their reading skills.  This year will be his fifth as a tutor.  “I like working with young people,” he notes.  “I understand some of the difficulties that our teachers have.”

In fact, his wife of more than 25 years was a K-8 educator who worked with children who mostly came from the local housing project.  She passed away recently of pulmonary fibrosis.  He credits her with having been a “good antidote” to his more naturally introverted personality, speaking fondly of her outgoing nature.

This election cycle, Roebuck has no opponents for his seat and looks forward to remaining a senior member of the House.


By Angelique H. Caffrey

Baker port

To say traveling is a passion for Pennsylvania Representative Matthew Baker might be a bit of an understatement.  During his lifetime, he’s been privileged to visit about 35 countries, Morocco being among the most exotic.  His trips around the world began in his youth, when his older sister began taking him with her on excursions.  Not only did those travels open his eyes to the rest of the world, but they made him appreciate his hometown of Westfield.

He recalls his journeys with her fondly: “She was 12 years older.  Since we didn’t grow up together at home, we traveled.  We got to know each other.  Every year, we took a major trip.  I learned a lot culturally and educationally.”  Sadly, Baker’s sister died more than a decade ago from diabetes-related complications.  Baker helped take care of her before she passed away, making sure she received the attention she deserved during her final years, a testament to their unique bond.

Today, Baker’s most frequent excursions take place along Route 15, heading from his congressional district in the northern tier of the commonwealth to Harrisburg.  Since the early 1990s, he’s taken this route, representing his constituents from a decidedly rural part of the state.   It’s a position he never sought to hold in his early years, but is privileged to have.

Like many of his colleagues in the House, Baker began his career in the public sector.  After graduating from college, he worked in a Wellsboro law firm whose senior partner was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.  At that time, Representatives didn’t have appointed staff members to help them, so the senior partner asked Baker to fill the role of staffer.  “He wanted to hire me for two jobs: District Aide and law firm worker.  We didn’t have to have separate State Representative offices then; you could just work out of your law firm.”

For more than 12 years, Baker did double-duty.  Along the way, he fell in love with public service. “Handling hundreds of constituent requests for services and concerns every day really taught me a lot about the law and law-making,” he says.  When his supervisor passed away due to cancer, the firm asked Baker to run for the House seat.  It took four years for him to agree, and he won.  Because the laws had since changed, Baker opened a separate State Representative office and has worked there ever since.

Next year, Baker will be the fourth-ranking senior member of the House, which gives him a novel perspective on the PA legislature.  He’s seen plenty of changes, including the advent of social media and emails.  He firmly believes in concentrating on the positives of those changes.  He also strives to show respect in all areas of his life.  “I love to write personal notes to everyone,” he explains.  “I think it shows civility and allows people to find common ground.  We need more civility.”

He’s pleased that the transparency and accountability has grown in the legislature.  “In the 1970s, there didn’t seem to be as much information available to the general public with what was happening,” he says.  “Now, people can track bills and amendments, as well as how a person voted.  People have more access to their legislators and are more engaged.”

Baker has spent his lifetime focused on his career, and he considers his constituents to be an extended family.  His wife, whom he met locally and married 27 years ago, has steadfastly supported him through long days and nights.  Though Baker’s journeys are less global these days, he still has a heart for learning.  He fills his free time with reading, which he feels keeps him grounded.  “I have a personal devotion, a daily devotion, every day.  Being faith-based is the constant in my life that keeps me focused.”



Nearly 1 million skilled jobs will need to be filled across Pennsylvania through 2024, with the greatest need in the areas of healthcare, business and finance and computer and mathematical occupations. Significant workforce “gaps” could occur in many of those high-demand fields, meaning there won’t be enough educated workers to fill all of the available positions.

Shortages also could occur in “middle skill” jobs, those that generally require significant education and training beyond high school, but less than a bachelor’s degree—in occupation categories such as maintenance and repair workers, industrial machinery mechanics and computer-controlled machine tool operators.

Those are among the findings of a “gap analysis” study conducted by Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education and unveiled, in part, at a meeting of the State System’s Board of Governors. Recognizing the economic diversity of the Commonwealth, the analysis was conducted by the State System both at the statewide and regional levels. The statewide findings were released on July 14; regional findings will be available this fall.

Answering the question, “Where are the workforce gaps in Pennsylvania?” the study will help policy makers and educators make key decisions about the types of programs that should be offered in order to best meet the needs of students and their future employers. The information provided by the study also could assist students as they make their college choices.

Calling it a “valuable resource” to higher education and both state and regional policy makers, State System Chancellor Frank T. Brogan said the gap analysis “is only one component of a larger resource base that the State System and universities can use for program development, strategic planning, engagement with businesses and support for current and prospective students.”

The study is the third piece of a data-driven package designed to help the State System universities increase their impact on Pennsylvania’s economy, both individually and collectively.

The first component, prepared by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce and released earlier this year, demonstrated the increasing importance of college graduates in the state’s workforce and highlighted the significant role the State System plays in supporting that workforce. The second included a series of reports that commented on the state of the workforce, including industry, jobs and socio-economic indicators for Pennsylvania and its regions.

The final piece provides an analysis of current and future workforce needs and to what extent higher education is meeting those needs. Specifically, the study was designed to project the outlook for skilled jobs, to identify which industries will drive future job growth, and to determine where “gaps” could exist between future job openings and the number of individuals educated to fill those jobs.

The gap analysis evaluated 445 skilled occupations in Pennsylvania to identify occupational categories where employer demand at the state level will exceed what universities are likely to provide through the year 2024. The overall job growth rate for the state during that time is projected at 9.5 percent. The projected growth of skilled jobs is higher than the overall growth rate and that for low-skilled jobs (8.1 percent). Skilled jobs in Pennsylvania are projected to grow by 10.9 percent while those in science, technology, engineering, mathematics and healthcare (STEM-H) are projected to grow by 15.6 percent.

Substantial gaps are projected for registered nurses, accountants and auditors, computer systems analysts, maintenance and repair workers, computer programmers, medical and clinical laboratory technologists, software developers, dental hygienists, sales representatives and market research analysts.

To view all of the reports, go to:

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the Commonwealth, with more than 100,000 degree-seeking students and thousands more who are enrolled in certificate and other career-development programs. Collectively, the 14 universities that comprise the State System offer more than 2,300 degree and certificate programs in more than 530 academic areas. Nearly 520,000 State System university alumni live in Pennsylvania.

The State System universities are Bloomsburg, California, Cheyney, Clarion, East Stroudsburg, Edinboro, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, Shippensburg, Slippery Rock and West Chester Universities of Pennsylvania. The universities also operate branch campuses in Oil City (Clarion), Freeport and Punxsutawney (IUP), and Clearfield (Lock Haven), and offer classes and programs at several regional centers, including the Dixon University Center in Harrisburg and in Center City in Philadelphia.

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