- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania

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VIOLENCE PLUS 20

It’s ironic that the uproar over Ray Rice’s brutal beating of his now-wife and the NFL’s shamefully lenient response is occurring exactly 20 years after Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act. The legislation was designed in part to bring public recognition and more government resources to the problem of domestic violence.

Despite that act, it’s safe to say that domestic violence continued to be considered by many as a “women’s issue,” lumped with rape, inadequate day care, pay inequity and other social conditions lamented by women’s groups. It’s also safe to say that much of America still didn’t “get it.”

Well, they get it now.

Indeed, the graphic and hideous video of Rice bashing his then-girlfriend Janay Palmer in a hotel elevator may well be the turning point in society’s recognition of just how horrendous domestic violence is, and how ignorant and irresponsible it is to brush it off.

The image of a prominent athlete smashing his fist into the face of a woman he supposedly loves - and then handling her inert body like a sack of potatoes in the aftermath - can’t be, and won’t be, soon forgotten. It’s a snapshot imprinted in our national consciousness of the physical and mental torture that one in five women in this country are said to endure.

Nothing in the world is more macho than the National Football League. And if the NFL can be publicly shamed into taking domestic violence seriously, into suspending Rice indefinitely from playing pro football, that is a milestone that can’t be understated. That’s true especially since the league and Rice’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, reacted so tepidly to Rice’s arrest after the beating.

They knew what he did and basically ignored it. Then they saw, with the rest of us, what he did, and knew they could ignore it no more. There’s speculation that they saw what he did prior to the video’s public release and still responded with wildly deficient consequences - suspending Rice for two games - until the public uproar forced their hand.

The video showed what every victim knows: that appearances can deceive, that a man who appears to be a “good guy” in public can be a violent and vicious beast in private. It may have been difficult for some people to imagine that anyone could be that duplicitous. Now, they don’t have to imagine it: they have seen it.

We can only hope that the enlightenment provided by this ghastly incident might lessen society’s skepticism and make it easier for victims to come forward to tell their stories.

The tape and its aftermath is also a sad and chilling insight into the way some victims respond: they blame themselves, they withdraw criminal charges, they reconcile with their abusers, they direct their anger elsewhere.

Janay Palmer, who married Rice after the beating, publicly apologized for what she may have done to provoke the beating - as if anything could justify a huge man knocking a woman unconscious - and she blamed the media for blowing it out of proportion and ruining their lives.

Tragically, her reaction is not atypical. Victims of domestic violence are demoralized, brainwashed into taking responsibility for the violence against them, made to feel worthless, guilty and powerless - and, most importantly, they are legitimately terrified of being murdered if they try to end the relationship.

-Philadelphia Daily News

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DID CASINO GAMING LIVE UP TO THE PROMISES AND HYPE?

In the workplace, some of the best advice an employee can get is to underpromise and overdeliver. Keep expectations realistic and then do your best to exceed them.

In politics, the mode of operation is often just the opposite: overpromise and underdeliver.

That seems to be what happened in Pennsylvania with the legalization of casino gambling in 2004.

In the debate over legalization, Pennsylvanians were told that casino gambling would help cut the burden of ever-escalating property tax bills. And about a third of slot machine revenue does go to property tax relief.

But the Associated Press analysis found that gambling revenue has made only a slight dent - in some cases, almost unnoticeable - in most people’s property taxes.

Casino gaming netted $1.5 billion for the horse industry, while school districts across the state were slashing services and raising taxes.

Overall, the tax relief funded by slot machines amounts to just six percent of the $12 billion that homeowners pay for schools. In one district, the resulting tax break is just $52 a year.

Low-income seniors do get a significant break, because some $160 million a year of casino money is set aside to help them. On average, the rebate for those low-income seniors was $475 in 2012, and the rebates wiped out property taxes for some 35,000 households, according to the AP report.

But overall, the AP said the average property tax break funded by casino gambling was $187. That’s barely more than a rounding error on most people’s property tax bills.

Casino gambling could deliver noticeably bigger tax relief if so much of the money didn’t go to subsidize Pennsylvania’s horse racing industry.

Part of the political deal that greased the way for casinos was to hand a slice of the action over to horse racing. The industry, which was then in severe decline, gets a guaranteed share of the casino pie - 12 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board.

Last fall, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that over six years, that subsidy for the state’s horse business totaled $1.5 billion.

They got that $1.5 billion at the same time school districts across the state were slashing services and raising taxes, thanks to the Great Recession and the loss of federal stimulus money, which helped fill gaps when the tough times led the state to cut education funding.

The national economic crisis has abated, but now catch-up contributions for underfunded pensions are eating big holes in school budgets. Lawmakers in Harrisburg use an ad hoc way of funding schools, leaving plenty of room for political influence, instead of a fair and predictable formula. No surprise, then, that education funding, past and future, is one of the biggest issues in this year’s governor’s race.

In Harrisburg, those high property taxes have led some legislators to support a drastic solution: ban the use of property taxes to fund schools. The state would replace the lost funds by raising the sales tax and income tax.

As Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, has pointed out on the House GOP website, another way of easing the property tax burden is to stop subsidizing “The Sport of Kings” and use the money on schools.

Stephens writes that state subsidies have allowed horse tracks to offer huge prizes, whose winners “include Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz, and countless, out-of-state, millionaire racehorse owners.

“We have a constitutional obligation to fund our schools,” Stephens adds, “not to provide economic incentives for one segment of one industry.”

Regardless of the options chosen, one of the most important challenges facing state legislators is finding a fair way to get schools the money they need without crushing local property taxpayers.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last fall that the 2004 political deal that launched casino gaming was “a remarkable boon for an industry that had been languishing for years throughout the country.”

Unfortunately, casino gaming has not been the same kind of boon for Pennsylvania’s property taxpayers.

- PennLive.com

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TESTING FAILS THE TEST: PITTSBURGH SCHOOLS FOCUS ON MORE INSTRUCTION

“Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators and closing schools.”

? Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education and education policy analyst

If testing itself were somehow tested, many teachers and parents would give it a failing grade. Major stakeholders in the Pittsburgh Public Schools already believe that. More than 300 people signed a recent online petition calling for testing to be cut back.

Now they have got their wish, at least for the lower grade levels. Last week, the school administration announced that the time spent on testing would be drastically reduced between kindergarten and grade-5. As the Post-Gazette’s Eleanor Chute reported, this will pay real dividends in the classroom. In grades 3 to 5 the reduction will amount to 33 hours per school year, equal to more than five days of instruction time.

Praise is sounding in various quarters. A national group that’s been a critic of testing has hailed Pittsburgh’s move as a model for the nation. What’s more, the district plans to have additional recommendations for grades 6 to 12 and content areas other than math and literacy for 2015-16.

But in the No Child Left Behind era, it’s impossible to escape the clutch of testing altogether. Tests required by the state and federal government will remain and they can be time-consuming. They include the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, the Keystone Exams and the GRADE test (Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation, required to receive Keystone to Opportunity reading grants).

Clearly, testing had gotten out of hand in the district. In 2013, required tests were given in Pittsburgh Public Schools more than 270 times in K-12. The district is to be congratulated for listening to the critics and responding. With more than a week’s worth of instruction freed up, the proposition that testing is not a substitute for teaching is now put to the test.

-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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BETTER MONEY-HANDLING TECHNIQUES CAN PREVENT TROUBLE FOR AREA NONPROFITS

Maybe those of us living in Northeastern Pennsylvania are too trusting. Or maybe we’re lazy about keeping track of communal cash.

Or maybe we’re lunkheads.

For whatever reason, we repeatedly have fallen victim to the same sorry scenario: allowing the money-handlers in our volunteer fire companies, youth sports leagues, charities and other nonprofit organizations to skate by with minimal oversight and shoddy record-keeping. Again and again, this unsatisfactory - and avoidable - setup comes back to bite us.

The cash “disappears.” Investigations ensue. Revelations surface of conduct ranging from the audaciously improper to the atrociously naive. Reputations suffer.

Moreover, each time a local nonprofit makes headlines for financial irregularities it chips away at the image of all nonprofits. “Thefts from these service and nonprofit entities shatter trust, camaraderie and public support that are essential to their success,” wrote Fred Croop, dean of the College of Professional Studies and Social Sciences at Misericordia University in Dallas Township.

Croop and others contend that basic changes are required in the way certain groups collect and control cash. To help instill the proper checks and balances, about a half-dozen auditing students at the university, with backing from area certified public accounts and accounting experts, have compiled a guide for volunteer organizations.

Croop intends to get the resource into the hands of any local groups whose leadership requests it. In a commentary appearing in the Sept. 7 edition of The Times Leader, he also outlined these sensible steps:

. Separate duties. “Do not have one person handle cash receipts, write checks and receive bank statements,” Croop wrote.

. Limit the treasurer’s term.

. Do not allow an organizational ATM card to be issued.

If you serve on a nonprofit board and have concerns about the group’s accounting practices, speak up. Ask questions. Recommend best practices. Don’t let your favorite nonprofit be the next to encounter a huge embarrassment, or worse.

Remember, lots of well-intentioned volunteers, and donors, are counting on your oversight to ensure the money goes only where it belongs - and leaves a trail that can prove it.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader.

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INCREASE FUNDING FOR STREAM-FLOW SYSTEMS

Flooding is the most common natural disaster in the United States and its costs are enormous. Every state experiences at least one flood a year on average. From Oct. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013, flooding killed 82 Americans and caused $2.15 billion in property damage, according to the National Weather Service. And it was a below-average year.

Yet in comparison to many other types of natural calamities such as earthquakes and tornadoes, flooding usually is somewhat more predictable. Improved weather forecasting and monitoring of river systems has resulted in more accurate flood forecasts, which provide time to save lives and reduce damages.

It would make sense, then, for the federal government to fully fund flood-warning systems to ensure maximum protection. But that is not the case.

Last year Congress increased funding for the National Streamflow Information Program by $1.3 million, to $35 million. The system includes thousands of stream and rain gauges along rivers and tributaries.

But in the Susquehanna River watershed alone, average annual damages from flooding are about $150 million. According to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, which monitors about 130 rain and stream gauges, fully funding the national streamflow system would cost $112 million a year, $38 million less than the average losses in the Susquehanna watershed alone.

Even that difference doesn’t illustrate the full savings that could be accomplished by a modest increase in funding for the stream-flow system. According to the Susquehanna commission, every dollar spent on the system saves $20 in damages and payouts by the badly stressed federal flood insurance program, and that does not include the costs of lost lives.

The stream-flow system is a perennial life-saver that saves money, yet there is an annual fight for funding. Sen. Bob Casey recently called on the administration to support increased funding, which itself should have a flood of legislative support given the pervasive impact of flooding across the nation.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice

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