Harrisburg, Pa. − June 24, 2019 − Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus today jointly sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf requesting a disaster declaration for gun violence in the Commonwealth.
“We believe it is necessary to raise the public’s awareness of the massive loss of human life and the suffering inflicted on affected family, friends and neighbors where this tragedy is unfolding daily,” they wrote. “Just as you have signed six disaster declarations to provide every tool at the Commonwealth’s disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the death toll and impact from illegal guns should merit immediate and coordinated attention.”
Specifically, a disaster declaration could do the following:
- Establish a task force led by the Department of Health to create and implement a public health framework for addressing gun violence
- Establish a command center in the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate state and local law enforcement response
- Enhance the Joint-Local State Firearm Taskforce through additional personnel and funding to take illegal guns off the street
- Expand information gathering and sharing between all levels of law enforcement and community groups
- Increase law enforcement presence, both local and state, in targeted areas where gun violence is most prevalent
- Expedite and expand grants and other funding sources for community groups and nonprofit associations with a proven record of violence reduction and prevention
- Provide additional state resources for behavioral and mental health
- Bringing to bear the significant wealth of knowledge and experience in the Departments of Health and Human Services to provide de-escalation and de-confliction training throughout the community
- Require the Pennsylvania Department of Education provide training and professional development on trauma-informed education
View full letter →
Harrisburg – October 28, 2015 – At the request of state Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Phila.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee today held a hearing on the devastating impact that the state’s 120-day budget impasse is having on schools across the state.
“While many of the budget dispute points remain unresolved, what is clear is that the consequences of this impasse are far-reaching,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the committee. “This hearing gives lawmakers a sense of how schools are handling the funding shortfall, and what problems they’ll face if this stalemate continues to drag on.”
Hughes added, “A growing number of schools have been cornered into borrowing money and taking out credit lines just to keep their doors open. Hopefully, this hearing’s focus on this worsening statewide financial crisis will encourage greater urgency, cooperation and compromise in the ongoing budget negotiations.”
During the hearing, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale testified that at least 27 school districts have taken out loans totaling more than $431 million. He projected that interest payments will total $30 million if the stalemate reaches mid-November.
Those who testified decried how the impasse has harmed students, depleted reserves and how taxpayers will be needlessly saddled with paying the interest on the growing number of loans and credit lines that schools are obtaining to keep their doors open.
Erie Public Schools Superintendent Jay Badams lamented that his district will need to borrow $30 million just to get through January.
“That’s $114,000 in wasted interest money that could have been used for so many badly needed educational expenses,” Badams said.
Dr. Joseph Roy, who serves as superintendent of the Bethlehem Area School District in Northampton County, added that “choices at the state level continue to hammer school districts.” He said the diversion of funds to charter and cyber schools and a “punitive” approach to public education has blown up school expenditures.
Dr. Rula Skezas, who serves as superintendent of the McKeesport Area School District in Allegheny County, noted that even if the district receives its proposed funding it would still fall short of what it received during the 2011 school year. She said McKeesport has taken out a $5 million line of credit to make it to December. She said the district has already eliminated 110 staff positions to try and make ends meet.
Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the Appropriations Committee, said public, charter and private schools are already reeling from years of being underfunded. He noted that the Philadelphia School District has already borrowed $275 million during the impasse. Fran Burns, who serves as chief operating officer for the School District of Philadelphia, testified that the district has struggled to contend with a “structural deficit.”
Lamenting the impact on local working families who fund schools through property taxes, Boscola pointed toward an educational survey conducted earlier this year showing that nearly 75 percent of districts were planning to impose property tax hikes, 30 percent were planning on making additional program cuts, and 41 percent were making more staff cuts. She said the state has withheld approximately $3 billion in school funds since the budget impasse began in July.
Joining Boscola and Hughes at the Capitol committee hearing were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny), Andrew Dinniman (D-Montgomery), Christine Tartaglione (D-Phila.) and Sean Wiley (D-Erie),
Those testifying included:
- The Honorable Eugene DePasquale
Pennsylvania Auditor General
- Fran Burns
Chief Operating Officer, School District of Philadelphia
- Joseph Gorham
Superintendent of Schools, Carbondale Area School District
- Dr. Joseph Roy
Superintendent of Schools, Bethlehem Area School District
- Dr. Jay D. Badams
Superintendent, Erie Public Schools
- Dr. Rula S. Skezas
Superintendent, McKeesport Area School District
- Marjorie Neff
Chair, School Reform Commission
- Anthony Pirrello
CEO, Montessori Regional Charter School of Erie, and Vice President of Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools
- Matt Przywara
Chief Financial and Operations Officer, School District of Lancaster
- Bill LaCoff
President, Pennsylvania School Boards Association
- Susan Gobreski
Education Voters of Pennsylvania
- Dr. Pearl English
School Nurse, School District of Philadelphia
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