Kevin McCorry

Keystone Crossroads Reporter

Kevin McCorry reports predominantly on education for the Keystone Crossroads project. 

Before his current gig, he was born in a Fishtown hospital that no longer exists.

Somewhere in the middle he loaded trucks in San Francisco, hustled in the reality television racket in NYC, and taught writing courses as an adjunct at Arcadia University.

He's most interested in experimenting with narrative storytelling as a means of illuminating complex social issues.

He believes William Faulkner when he says, to paraphrase, that the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself can alone make good writing.

He also believes David Foster Wallace when he says that "in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance."

In his free time, he hikes the Wissahickon and plays in a band.

He resides in Northwest Philadelphia with his wife and son, the best baby on earth.

Ways to Connect

Old Main, an administrative building and landmark of Penn State's University Park campus.
Lindsay Lazarski / Keystone Crossroads

The ongoing budget impasse in Harrisburg has been especially frustrating to Pennsylvania’s state-related universities, which have been counting on a roughly $650 million allocation from the state to subsidize lower tuition rates for students who live in the commonwealth.

The allocation is negotiated and approved yearly by lawmakers, and this year, in the midst of a long-overdue budget plan, there remains no consensus on how to pay for it.

Ian Willms / Keystone Crossroads

 

What a difference a two hour drive can make.

Students in Erie, Pa. attend a public school district that’s teetering on the brink of collapse. 

Staffing has been downsized to bare-bones levels. Many of the schools are badly in need of repairs. And the superintendent has proposed shuttering all high schools.

The city district, though, is surrounded on all sides by better-resourced suburban schools that serve less needy children.  This is the hallmark of Pennsylvania’s K-12 landscape: stark resource discrepancies between schools in different zip codes.

In northwest Pennsylvania, along the edge of Lake Erie, you'll find the city of Erie.

There, the superintendent of the more than 12,000-student district has forwarded a plan that's causing a stir — calling for leaders to consider shutting down all of the district's high schools and sending students to the wealthier, whiter, suburban districts.

Why?

Superintendent Jay Badams says it's a "matter of fairness."

two girls
Kevin McCorry / WHYY

 

In the waning days of the school year, a group of students at Strong Vincent High School in the city of Erie sat around a large wooden table in the library, discussing how they feel their school is perceived out in the suburbs.

Nathan Stevens, a white junior, was one of the first to chime in.

"We're a city school and the surrounding districts are higher income and they always think that they're better than us," he said. "That's just how it works around here."

Whitney Henderson, an African-American sophomore, spoke next...

People with signs at state capital
Kevin McCorry / WHYY

Urban school districts in Pennsylvania face a particularly cruel logic.

They serve the poorest, most needy students, yet, when it comes to state funding per pupil, most of them don't make the top of the list.

That dynamic has come to a head in the city of Erie, where leaders of one of the largest school systems in the state are contemplating closing all high schools...

AP File Photo

 

The dust has settled on the 2016-17 Pennsylvania budget, and, as usual, debates over education funding and policy dominated much of the negotiations.

Last year this time, Democrats and Republicans were still miles apart on budget talks, and it took until March to come to resolution.

This year, a final deal was hashed out a mere 13 days late.

So how, in sharply divided government, do you get a deal done — almost on time?

By compromising, and punting on the most controversial elements.

two students walking down sidewalk
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A survey of Pennsylvania superintendents and school business officials offers a bleak portrait of the state of education in the commonwealth.

With mandated costs growing faster than revenues, districts across the state report that they are planning to cut staff, increase class sizes, and curtail programs and extracurriculars — all while hiking local property taxes...

CONTINUE READING

Jessica Kourkounis

 

Education advocates across Pennsylvania are celebrating the fact that the state is about to commit to a new student weighted formula for distributing state aid.

But not everyone is happy.

One advocacy group says proceeding as planned will continue to shortchange many school districts.

For the past few weeks, Kelly Lewis has been crisscrossing the state trying to help certain school districts understand just how unfairly they've treated by the state for the past 25 years.

School building
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Pennsylvania will soon join the overwhelming majority of states that have a student-based formula for distributing state education funds.

Both the House passed the measure with a large majority Wednesday. The Senate did so last week.

For much of the past 25 years, the state has largely divided it's main pot of education money based on the principle that districts should never get less than the prior year.

Jessica Kourkounis

 

The advocacy group Public Interest Law Center says the commonwealth's own data point to the need for at least $3.2 billion in added state funding.

When the state's bipartisan basic education funding commission published its report last year, it came up with a new formula for distributing new state education dollars. The formula acknowledges that districts face added burdens, for instance, when educating students in poverty, or those still learning English.

Matt Rourke, Chris Knight / AP Photos

 

The Pennsylvania school code says teacher layoff decisions can only be made according to who has the least seniority.

The Republican-held general assembly passed a bill this week to change that, but it's facing a veto pledge from Governor Tom Wolf.

The bill does two main things. It changes the conditions under which layoffs can happen and it changes which teachers should be laid off.

This winter, high school junior Jameria Miller would run to Spanish class. But not to get a good seat.

"The cold is definitely a distraction," Jameria says. "We race to class to get the best blankets."

Because the classroom has uninsulated metal walls, Jameria's teacher would hand out blankets. First come, first served. Such is life in the William Penn School District — an impoverished, predominantly African-American school system situated among Philadelphia's inner-ring suburbs.

AP File Photo

 

Pennsylvania's protracted budget negotiation ended nearly a month ago, but the fight continues over how $150 million in new education spending will be divided amongst the state's 500 school districts.

Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to restore funding to districts hurt most by past cuts suffered a major blow last week. And now he faces another critical veto decision.

Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

 

The fight in Harrisburg over how $200 million in new Pennsylvania education aid should be divided continues.

Although Gov. Tom Wolf allowed the state budget to become law in late March, he vetoed the fiscal code that, in part, served as a roadmap for how new education funding would be distributed.

As passed by lawmakers, the fiscal code directed all new education money through a student-weighted funding formula, as recommended by a bipartisan commission.

AP File Photo

 

As the battle in the Pennsylvania Capitol over funding public schools this year continues, Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a $200 million increase for next year's basic education budget.

Wolf, a Democrat, and the Republicans who control the legislature are still sparring over how much money schools should receive this year. Wolf has been seeking a $377 million boost for K-12 basic education spending for the current year's budget.

Shutterstock

 

The school year is soon to begin, and districts across the state of Pennsylvania are faced with a troubling proposition: How do you stay afloat when a very large chunk of your budget is nonexistent?

School leaders face this question as first-year Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, and leaders of the Republican-held state House and Senate continue to disagree about how to frame the state's spending plan.

As the first day of classes draws near, districts have not received any of the state aid that would typically begin flowing in August.

Jake Corman
Chris Knight / AP Photo

Pick your favorite issue or cause in Pennsylvania: public education, services for the poor, tax breaks for businesses.

Chances are, there's going to be less money for any of these moving forward because the state's public employee pension bill is growing exponentially, with a current unfunded liability of $53 billion.