- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



The state budget stalemate has now entered its fifth month. And while Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts may have figured out how to make up what they’re not getting in state funding, what they can’t make up is the interest they’re not earning on the state funds they normally bank until needed.

The way Centennial school board member Michael Hartline figures it, school districts overall have lost maybe $100 million in interest payments since state government missed the June 30 budget deadline. That’s based on the approximate $10 billion the state spends on education annually. Central Bucks School District Business Manager David Matyas shares Hartline’s view. He told our reporter that his district’s piece of the state education pie would have been about $17 million so far.

Hartline said Centennial should have received $3 million from the state in October alone. Instead, Hartline said the state received “a $3 million free loan from us….

“We have a line item in our budget for interest income,” Hartline explained. “I want compensation in interest income that the district has lost by essentially providing an interest-free loan to the state.”

As part of a strategy to obtain compensation, Hartline said the district should sue Gov. Wolf and possibly the state Legislature for the interest income the state is accruing by withholding the district’s subsidy.

“Every month we sit here and lament … that we don’t have a budget from the state. We pass proclamation after proclamation, none of which have any teeth or do any good,” Hartline said, calling on board members “to move this up to another level.” And so they did, or at least began the process, by ordering the school board’s attorney to investigate the legality of suing the governor and the General Assembly.

If the strategy is legally viable, board members would like a challenge to snowball into a class action involving all of the state’s school districts. Board Vice President Mark Miller, who doubles as president-elect of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, said Hartline and his backers are on the “right track.” Miller hedged that he’d prefer to sue for federal education funds funneled through Harrisburg.

Either way, it’s worth noting that Miller was critical of the Quakertown school board for withholding its contribution to the state pension fund for teachers - and encouraging other districts to join it - as a tactic to pressure the state into reforming its underfunded, outmoded and costly defined-benefit pension plan.

We’re not suggesting that Miller dis his own school board. Just that he should reconsider his stand against Quakertown, which seeks to pressure state officials into doing what they should do. No different from what Miller’s colleagues in Centennial hope to achieve.

Given the stubbornness of state budget negotiators, it’s worth a try.

- (Levittown) Bucks County Courier Times



A national gun buyback program would be worth considering, says Democrat presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, extolling Australia’s and the United Kingdom’s firearm restriction and registration laws. But she comes up short in detailing their effectiveness.

John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, fills in the blanks.

After the U.K. handgun ban in January 1997, its homicide rate rose by 50 percent over the next eight years; the firearms homicide rate almost doubled. Today, the rate is about where it was before the ban - after an 18 percent increase in the police force, Lott says.

Australia began a buyback program in 1996. The government banned automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. It also adopted a registration list.

“I do not know enough details to tell you how we would do it, or how it would work, but certainly the Australian example is worth looking at,” Clinton said. Never mind that the number of privately owned guns steadily increased and, by 2010, returned to 1996 levels.

That corresponds with a 2004 National Academy of Sciences study, which found the theory behind gun buybacks “is badly flawed.”

This and other confiscatory initiatives only benefit the thugs who don’t relinquish their weapons.

- The Tribune-Review



Tipping is something of an anachronism in America, where fair compensation for work is a perennial issue.

Letting diners determine much of their servers’ compensation rewards cheapskates, creates vast disparities in compensation within restaurants, encourages cheating on taxes and diminishes the value of work.

Now, influential New York restaurateur Danny Meyer might have signaled the beginning of the end of tipping. His 13-restaurant Union Square Hospitality Group will eliminate tipping by the end of 2016, which will result in generally higher direct pay for its 1,800 employees.

Prices will rise, but the end cost will be no more than the current price plus a standard tip.

The new regime, which is likely to spread in the industry, will take some getting used to, but it makes more sense for diners and workers.

- The (Wilkes-Barre) Citizens’ Voice



Turn back the clock 100 or 150 years, and it wasn’t all too uncommon to find families where there were six, seven or eight children, or even more than that, in the United States and other parts of the Western world.

Birth control was not as common or reliable, hands were needed in fields, and a number of those children were claimed before they reached maturity by tuberculosis, influenza or any of the other maladies that shortened the lives of our predecessors. Many women produced children every year or two from their teens to their 40s.

Such fecundity is uncommon now. We are a more urban, mobile society, women are better educated, and family sizes tended to settle naturally around two children or so based on social and economic trends. The state has played no formal, proscribed role in nudging family sizes downward.

Not so in China. In the late 1970s, fearing overpopulation would burden the country’s push to become a modern, consumer-oriented society, Chinese officials decreed couples would only have one child. Couples who ended up having additional children, by design or accident, ended up not registering them or paying heavy fines. Other couples opted to have fetuses aborted in order to stay within Communist Party guidelines.

But, much like the dunderheaded policies hatched by Communist Party officials in China during the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution that led to famine, vicious persecution and rampant underdevelopment, the official policy of limiting families to one child led the world’s most populous nation not to utopia but to something far less than that.

In fact, to use the technical term, it has put China in a pickle.

Given the cultural preferences for boys over girls, and the resulting abortion of more female than male fetuses, China is now left with millions of men of marriageable age who have no hope of landing a spouse, simply because there are not enough females to go around. The one-child-only policy also put China on track within a decade or two to become a land where the elderly predominate, which seems certain to significantly slow its escalating growth.

Seeing the damage its policy has wrought, Chinese officials last week lifted the one-child policy, and are now saying couples can have two children without fear of official retribution. While this is a step forward for human rights within China, it illustrates how much China remains a totalitarian society where its citizens are not seen as individuals with their own predilections and desires. The state should play no part in a decision that is so private and personal.

Isabel Hilton, a columnist for The Guardian, said the one-child edict - which brought “misery and cruelty” - weakened Chinese society. “China has gone from a nation in which survival and status was built on family and clan to one in which most children have no siblings, no cousins and no aunts or uncles.”

Hilton and other close observers of China believe the country crossed a Rubicon and will nevertheless be suffering long-term damage. Families will not automatically start producing more children, and the demographic seeds it planted will inevitably come to a troubling fruition.

For the last couple of decades, China has been the world’s powerful economic engine. With fewer and fewer young people to buy its products, drive on its highways and work in its factories, it may well be sputtering in the years ahead. And Chinese officials will have no one to blame but themselves.

- (Washington) Observer-Reporter



A current buzzword, “hybrid,” has become a go-to for everyone from car manufacturers to educators to lawmakers. Pinning down an exact definition for each potential avenue requires an understanding of the context in each use.

Pennsylvania lawmakers have pitched a hybrid plan - part taxpayer, part 401(k) - to revamp the state’s pension system, a $50 billion unfunded liability hanging squarely around taxpayers’ necks. Educators have traditionally used an amalgam of classroom and online learning at the college level, offering students the opportunity to combine long-standing face-to-face experience with digital learning at a student’s preferred pace. The system is slowly working its way into public education, where middle and high school students, including those in the Valley, now have the ability to study and grow in a variety of forms.

A system of combining independent online learning with more standard teacher-to-student instruction and group dynamic within a single class experience is a growing trend that must be correctly monitored and administered as it evolves. So far administrators like what they see. In this setting, students learn through a series of rotations within the three outlets. It creates “more personalized classroom experiences for students, more personalized instruction,” said Elaine Sautner, assistant to the superintendent at Selinsgrove. “We believe this teaching model is hitting a lot of 21st century skills, while aiming for attainment of the academic standards. It’s all about kids learning their standards, but it’s also about kids learning skills that they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“We want our students to be leaders of their own learning,” Sautner said.

This will be the key to the long-term viability of this hybrid education program. It is also why the system may not be appropriate for every student, or every family. If a student learns more in a standard classroom situation or the faster-paced online, this hybrid structure must be adaptable enough to allow a student to focus their attention and time where the greater opportunity for success is.

Hybrid learning has proved effective at all levels of education, but requires a different hands-on approach than traditional methods. The program offers students the ability to take control of what they learn, how they learn and when they learn. The ball is in their court. Additionally, it poses new challenges for educators, administrators and school officials who have long known students learn differently. More than ever, it will take a village, and it starts with students understanding their education - and future - is in their hands more than ever before.

- The (Sunbury) Daily Item


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