Editorials from around Pa…Liquor privatization, will 2015 be the year?

If buying liquor, wine and beer in Pennsylvania were more convenient, with widely available selection at competitive prices, most residents probably wouldn’t care if the state stayed in the wine and liquor selling business.
But today’s state store system and the archaic restrictions on private retail beer sales have frustrated Keystone state consumers for long enough.
Pennsylvania has reached the point where it’s time to stop the periodic massaging and tweaking of the state store system and deal with the fundamental cause of all that frustration: state ownership, with all the political machinations and trade-offs that brings.
Leave the alcohol-selling to the private sector, and let state government concentrate on its proper role. Government’s job is not to make profits from selling a product that private business is perfectly capable of handling. Government’s job is to make sure the alcohol business, like other businesses, is run in a fair and responsible way.
Eighty-two years after Prohibition ended, Pennsylvania is closer than ever to reaching that sensible state of affairs. A House committee on Monday approved a privatization bill very similar to what passed the House last session. A vote in the full House is expected Thursday.
Wolf is smart enough to know he needs to make compromises with the heavily Republican Legislature if he is going to get key items on his agenda.
The bill includes a complicated web of provisions to ease the transition, because such a fundamental change on such a broad scale, done abruptly, would cause too much dislocation, most notably for the state stores’ unionized workforce.
Most, if not almost all, jobs in privatized retail operations will be non-union and pay less, and there may be fewer of those jobs, at least in the early stages. The House privatization bill offers transitional aid to current state store workers, along with incentives for businesses to hire the displaced workers. That transitional aid is an essential part of any privatization deal.
As the Legislature shapes the details of a final package that can win the necessary votes, its work should be guided by several key principles:
The privatization arrangement should net a good price for the state-owned assets, without trying to squeeze every last dollar from the sell-off, which would jack up prices on customers.
Privatization should make it possible for customers to do convenient, one-stop shopping, without unleashing a flood of alcohol dispensaries on neighborhoods and communities.
The transition should be done gradually, not abruptly. And it should loosen the rules for buying alcohol from out of state, while preventing wide-scale evasion of the state’s alcohol taxes.
Wine and liquor privatization died last year in the state Senate, even though Republicans were in control. Republicans have a stronger grip on power this time around, although newly-elected Gov. Wolf is opposed to privatization and could well veto it.
However, Wolf is smart enough to know he needs to make compromises with the heavily Republican Legislature if he is going to get key items on his agenda, like a severance tax on natural gas and more money for K-12 education.
Agreeing to liquor privatization is a change that will be popular with voters and can smooth the way for Pennsylvania to make much-needed progress on much more important fronts.
– PennLive.com
Since at least 1983, when the federal report “A Nation at Risk” painted a picture of failing public schools churning out undereducated and unprepared graduates, lawmakers and educational reformers have been endlessly toying with curriculum changes and testing regimes in the hope something, anything, would put our students on the same par as their peers in other developed countries when it comes to the three R’s.
One has to wonder, though, whether the fault, to paraphrase Shakespeare, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves. For all of our talk of valuing education, do we truly appreciate it, and all the other virtues that come with it, such as curiosity and critical thinking? Or would we rather our students receive not an education but training and indoctrination?
Three recent news stories made us wonder.
First, a legislative committee in Oklahoma voted last week to cut funding for the teaching of advanced placement American history courses. Although students who perform well on tests administered at the end of the course receive college credit for their efforts, lawmakers argued the new framework for teaching advanced placement American history emphasizes “what is bad about America” and doesn’t instruct students on “American exceptionalism,” even as the framework, which was developed by the College Board, states its objectives “are written in such a way that does not promote any political position or interpretation of history.”
James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, countered the larger issue is “people’s willingness to let teachers explore the complexities of history, to recognize what you want students to learn is historical thinking, and to see the complexity that makes history more than a simple story.”
Teaching students America’s progress moved in fits and starts, that it has been marked by conflict, and does not rest on a bedrock of infallibility, is not some form of brainwashing by leftist educators, but merely a statement of truth, no matter your political persuasion.
Grossman continued, “Fewer and fewer college professors are teaching the history our grandparents learned – memorizing a litany of names, dates and facts – and this upsets some people. ‘College-level work’ now requires attention to context, and change over time . and reassesses traditional narratives. This is work that requires and builds empathy, an essential aspect of historical thinking.”
Even before Oklahoma generated headlines for its attack on advanced placement American history classes, a bill was introduced in West Virginia’s legislature requiring students to learn about the founding of America before they learn about any of the following: foreign affairs; the United Nations; socialism or communism; economics; “world government”; or nebulously defined “social problems.” Any teacher who deviates from the proscribed list would be fined.
Then, in Wisconsin, the mission statement for the University of Wisconsin System, called “the Wisconsin Idea,” was briefly altered to say the system should “meet the state’s workforce needs” rather than “search for truth” or “improve the human condition.” After considerable backlash, Gov. Scott Walker credited the proposed change to a drafting error, but some observers believe he was signaling to a GOP presidential primary electorate he’s not patient with any lofty, “elitist” notions about colleges and universities serving anything other than prosaic, nuts-and-bolts ends.
But stifling our teachers, disdaining the life of the mind, and narrowing the curriculum so it emphasizes dogma over critical engagement with the subject matter? That’s not a recipe for a country that wants to flourish in the 21st century. And no amount of testing can fix that.
– (Washington) Observer-Reporter
Young people face enough obstacles to learning – they don’t need the disruptive behavior of a classmate to make things worse. That is why, when a student becomes defiant, belligerent or violent, out-of-school suspension must be one of the disciplinary tools available to teachers to keep control of the classroom.
How public schools use suspensions is a hot topic these days, with close attention given to whether a district’s latest total is up or down and whether suspensions disproportionately fall on minority students.
A report released Monday by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA showed the Woodland Hills School District ranked in the top 10 nationwide in 2011-12 for the highest rate of out-of-school suspensions of elementary students. It said the district suspended 23.8 percent of its students in kindergarten through fifth grade, compared to a national average of 2.6 percent.
On Saturday, a coalition of groups will discuss suspensions in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, which totaled 9,900 in the last school year, a decline of 15 percent from the previous year. A key topic will be why nearly three-fourths of the city’s suspensions went to African-American students while they account for 53 percent of total enrollment. Two related subjects are disciplinary alternatives to suspension and the effect of school absence on students who are frequently suspended.
The attention being focused on suspensions – whether they are effective, too frequent or fairly applied – is legitimate. Yet, at the same time, a school’s primary obligation to its students, its parents, its teachers and its taxpayers is to maintain a positive learning environment. That means disciplining, and sometimes removing, an unruly youth. No one said keeping order was easy.
People can debate whether suspension is the ideal response for specific misbehaviors. Some students see it as a vacation; others do more harm with a day on the street than in class. For that reason, the range of punishments should be best left to educators, perhaps in consultation with local police. And it goes without saying that just as schools and their student populations differ, so, too, will their disciplinary codes.
What should be consistent from school to school is a commitment to classrooms where learning happens and students flourish. If that means detention, suspension, expulsion – or an effective alternative – schools must be free to use what works.
– Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There are understandable mixed opinions about whether Pennsylvania welfare recipients should lose benefits if they win a significant lottery prize.
Beyond that, current debate under the Capitol dome centers on what winning figure such a requirement should kick in.
If passed, House Bill 251 as written would require the Department of Human Services to determine if someone who receives welfare benefits should have those benefits cut off or reduced if the recipient’s lottery prize is in excess of $2,500.
Actually, the legislation should have been written to require the determination for any prize of $2,500 or higher – the $2,500 prize being from a 50-cent-straight bet in the commonwealth’s Pick 4 game.
Money withheld from the paychecks of taxpayers fund the welfare system, and lawmakers should act on behalf of those taxpayers’ best interests. If a welfare recipient wins a prize of $2,500 or more, benefits should be adjusted temporarily to reflect that good fortune and spare the taxpayers the burden of providing that financial support.
In response to big prizes above a certain amount, welfare benefits should be terminated.
There are many people with incomes that barely allow them to make ends meet for their own households who are among the people helping to make welfare money available for others.
Then there’s the relevant opinion of Rep. Brad Roae, R-Crawford, who said, “If you can’t provide for your own basic needs, if you can’t provide for your food, clothing, shelter or health care, you shouldn’t be buying a lottery ticket in the first place.”
Some people might counter that a welfare recipient who wins a substantial prize in the lottery could have someone else cash in the ticket, so as not to jeopardize benefits. That’s true.
However, the person cashing in the ticket under his or her name and Social Security number would be responsible for the federal taxes associated with that prize.
And that questionable gesture could have bigger-than-anticipated negative consequences if the prize thrust the “good Samaritan” into a higher federal tax bracket.
Pennsylvania residents who win a prize in this state’s lottery aren’t required to pay state income taxes on those winnings, although a prize won by a Pennsylvania resident in another state would be taxable for state purposes.
Referring to “251” as currently written and what he views as “unintended collateral damage” in the legislation, Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said, “We’re talking about someone who could win $2,600 and could then have to come up with $1,600 for child care.”
So what? If a hard-pressed welfare recipient is fortunate enough to win a substantial lottery prize, he or she should put that money to good use, not expect the state to use its resources when the money is otherwise available for that care or other needs.
A way around the forfeiture of welfare benefits would be to deposit the winnings into an educational savings account, which would not count as an asset in terms of benefit eligibility.
In the final analysis, the welfare/lottery winnings component of House Bill 251 should be passed, and with the language “prizes of $2,500 or more.”
Fairness is a two-way street.
– The (Altoona) Mirror
Tell it like it is.
From shootings to public corruption, some crimes in northeastern Pennsylvania go unpunished for too long because certain grownups – possibly you – won’t gather the courage to do what’s right and supply the facts.
That’s spineless.
Unfortunately, criminals and elements of pop culture conspire to try to convince people otherwise.
Rap singers have profited by telling audiences they shouldn’t cooperate with police or they’ll pay a price, perhaps with their lives. A “stop snitchin'” campaign, promoted on DVDs released in 2004 and 2007, echoed that theme. All sorts of words – nark, rat, canary, weasel, stool pigeon – are tossed at people to discourage them from doing what their consciences tell them. In this twisted reality, grown men and women live by a school-playground mentality in which, should they speak out, they worry they’ll be cut off from their “friends.”
Oh, please. Grow up.
See this keep-your-lips-sealed garbage for what it really is: witness intimidation.
Entire inner-city neighborhoods in places such as Philadelphia, Baltimore and Camden, New Jersey, became killing zones in part because good people, either out of fear or ignorance, adopted the criminals’ ridiculous moral code. They wouldn’t share information with law enforcement. Communities decayed. Last April in Baltimore, the 14-year-old son of the creator of that “stop snitchin'” DVD was shot in the head and killed. Fat chance anyone will step forward with information on the gunman.
Is that the atmosphere we aim to foster in the Wyoming Valley?
Of course not. Yet, people who should know better tried to attach snitch labels to two men who testified in this month’s double-homicide trial of Hugo Selenski. Neither Patrick Russin nor Paul Weakley is a role model. But when it really mattered, each seemingly “manned up” and told the truth.
Separately, this region’s pervasive public corruption – as made evident by dozens of arrests since 2009 – suggests that many people willingly have turned a blind eye to wrongdoing. If certain school board members expected bribes for awarding teaching jobs and business contracts, how many people had knowledge of the activity but said nothing? In other instances of corruption, did bookkeepers or secretaries have suspicions? What about spouses or children?
Has blind loyalty to a tainted power broker or other bad apple been keeping you quiet? Reconsider.
Finally make things right for the community. Tell investigators like it is about illicit drug distribution, prostitution, “cooking the books,” kickback schemes, sports betting, illegal dumping and other dirty deeds that hurt us all.
– The (Wilkes-Barre) Times Leader
Last Friday all four of Monroe County’s school districts opted to stay closed because of the extreme cold.
Temperatures were below zero in most areas early that morning, and the wind chill made it feel much colder. Still, by mid-morning people were out and about day, trudging to a neighbor’s house, to work, to the store. Local ski areas entertained thousands of skiers, snowboarders and tubers taking advantage of an extended President’s Day holiday week. Pike County’s public schools were in session – as were, presumably, schools in even colder states, in Canada, Scandinavia, Russia. You get the idea.
In other words, it is possible to venture outdoors en route to a destination if you are prepared for it. But local school districts, ironically in a ski resort area, waffle regularly in winter. Again Monday, Pocono Mountain, East Stroudsburg and Stroudsburg districts all called a two-hour delay to the start of school, on account of the cold or black ice. Temperatures were in the teens.
Schools play a role in preparing young people for the world. These days, it seems, the instruction must go beyond reading, writing, arithmetic, gender studies and computers. If parents don’t or won’t teach their children practical life skills like wearing layers and donning warm footwear, mittens and hats, well then, schools ought to. As it is, kids are missing entire days of instruction and focus more on whether they’ll get more time off than they do on their lessons.
As far as proper attire, some families won’t have it. But probably every school has a cache of winter jackets and accessories for kids whose parents cannot or do not provide them. School officials could work with PTAs to make sure the clothing gets where it needs to go, and teach all children, from elementary level on up, in the classroom about preparing for adverse weather.
Missing school because it’s cold out? The pioneers would weep if they could see the tenderfoots who live today in the land of the free … and the home of the scared of the cold.
– Pocono Record

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