Keystone Crossroads

Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. WPSU and three other public media newsrooms in Pennsylvania are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis -- and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, Web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.

Sen. Patrick Toomey, R-Penn., sponsored or co-sponsored four provisions to the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The U. S. Senate passed sweeping legislation intended to combat the nation’s opioid crisis in a 99-1 vote on Monday evening.

The wide-ranging package known as the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018 rolls up 70 bills that will advance research, treatment, awareness and recovery efforts related to opioid abuse that will be backed by about $5 billion in funding.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speaks during a student town hall at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Monday, Sept. 17, 2018.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos called out the nation’s universities Monday in a talk about campus free speech and the First Amendment.

DeVos said “precious few” campuses could be described as “free and open,” and said a rising tide of censorship could be traced back to a “relativistic culture” in which truth is subjective.

State Representative Scott Conklin, D-Centre, introduced two new bills on Monday, which would demand greater accountability from religious organizations.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Following the grand jury report on the alleged widespread clergy abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church, state lawmakers are pushing for reforms. State Representative Scott Conklin, D-Centre, introduced two new bills on Monday, which would demand greater accountability from religious organizations.

A Republican state senate policy committee hosted a roundtable discussion about school safety in Williamsport on August 16, 2018.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

A Republican state senate policy committee hosted a roundtable discussion about school safety in Williamsport on Thursday. Much of the discussion centered around ways to allocate the $60 million lawmakers reserved for it this year.  

There were nearly a dozen school districts from Central Pennsylvania at the roundtable. Lawmakers and school officials agreed the school safety needs of different school districts can vary greatly.

A new report out of Penn State University says corn production in the Southeastern part of the state could be especially vulnerable in the coming decades.
Photo provided by Greg Roth/Penn State

Last month, Pennsylvania saw the most recorded rainfall in a July. For many farmers in the state, the intense precipitation is part of a pattern of weather changes they are trying to adapt to.

A new report out of Penn State University says corn production in the Southeastern part of the state could be especially vulnerable in the coming decades.

Parishioners pray the Rosary at Holy Infancy Roman Catholic in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania after mass on Tuesday, August 14, 2018.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

More than 300 “predator priests” allegedly sexually abused over one thousand victims in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses for decades, while bishops and other high-ranking church officials covered it up and urged victims not to go to the police.

That is according to a lengthy Pennsylvania grand jury report released Tuesday, which had been in the making for two years. It faced several legal challenges by priests and others named in its pages who claimed the report would violate their right to reputation as guaranteed by the Pa. constitution.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2018.
(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Updated: 5:52 p.m.

A long-awaited grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse in Pennsylvania was released Tuesday in an interim, redacted form — detailing decades of alleged misconduct and cover-ups in six of the state’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses.

State College borough planning director Ed LeClear in front of one of the houses sold through the Neighborhood Sustainability Program.
Emily Reddy / WPSU

It’s just a short walk from the municipal building in downtown State College where Ed LeClear works as borough planning director to a two-story brick house on Foster Avenue with a “For Sale” sign out front. The blocks surrounding it are full of apartment buildings and fraternities, but this block is mostly single-family homes.

The State College Borough’s Redevelopment Authority bought this house, removed the permit that allowed owners to rent it to students and is reselling it as a part of the Neighborhood Sustainability Program.

building construction
Min Xian / WPSU

The development going on in State College right now is expected to increase the number of housing units in the borough by about 20 percent. And largely they’ll be downtown student rentals.

While many Pennsylvania municipalities struggle to sustain their downtowns and shrinking populations, the State College area faces a different set of challenges. The place that’s home to Penn State is seeing growth. But not everyone thinks it’s the right kind.

In State College, some residents worry about the upticks in urbanization, while others welcome the growth. Keystone Crossroads talked to residents about how they feel about their rapidly evolving community.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Home to Penn State University’s main campus, State College and the larger Centre County area have been steadily growing in terms of population and economy. In recent years, the town has experienced an uptick in urbanization, with new high rises offering luxurious student housing. At the same time, a handful of local establishments have closed as more chain stores have arrived.

Some residents worry about those changes, while some others welcome the growth.

In his office on Penn State’s main campus, Sascha Meinrath, a professor of telecommunications, tested his internet speed.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

In his office on Penn State’s main campus, Sascha Meinrath, a professor of telecommunications, tested his internet speed.

With an upload speed of 200 megabits and a download speed of 80 megabits per second, it blew past the federal definition of broadband.

“That’s way over the FCC definition,” said Meinrath.

But many in Pennsylvania aren’t so lucky.

In this file photo, a welder fabricates anchor bolts for roads and bridges at the custom manufacturer in Pennsylvania.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

A study by Bucknell University’s Institute For Public Policy counts Pennsylvania as one of the states where residents are most skeptical of free trade agreements.

The study found especially negative attitudes in states where voters supported President Barack Obama in 2012 and flipped to President Donald Trump in 2016: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa.

Following national trends, Pennsylvania’s population is getting older and slowly becoming more diverse according to the latest statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nearly one-third of all Pennsylvania residents were 55 years or older in 2017, ranking it seventh among states for the highest median age in the country at about 41 years old. The national median age is 38 years old.

Pennsylvania has the largest full-time legislature in the country.
Matt Rourke / AP Photo

A long-awaited study out of the Pennsylvania General Assembly offered a scathing assessment of the state’s capital punishment system this week, saying the death penalty comes at a high cost to state taxpayers without deterring crime.

Members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers at a center city rally. The U.S. Supreme Court decision Wednesday could cripple the political influence of teachers' unions.
(Matt Rourke/AP Photo, file)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday in a 5-4 decision that public sector union employees can choose not to pay union dues or fees, a move that could damage union finances and limit their political clout.

In Pennsylvania, and nationally, teachers unions could bear the brunt of the court’s ruling.

Ashley Oleson, with the League of Women Voters of Maryland, carries signs of the state's districts, before oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamon in front of the Supreme Court, Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

The U.S. Supreme Court was expected to make a defining decision on extreme partisan gerrymandering this term. It took up two cases, one from Wisconsin, and the other from Maryland. But, in unanimous decisions, the court avoided the key constitutional question at stake in these cases: How much politics is too much when determining voting districts?

Instead, it ruled on technicalities.

Ambulance providers in Pennsylvania are enthusiastic about a bill advancing in the state legislature that would require insurance companies to reimburse EMS for calls that don’t end in a hospital trip.
VBaleha/BigStock

Ambulance providers in Pennsylvania are enthusiastic about a bill advancing in the state legislature that would require insurance companies to reimburse EMS for calls that don’t end in a hospital trip.

Currently, insurance companies aren’t required to pick up that cost.

“Even if we’re paid by the insurance companies, the insurance companies do not usually pay in full,” said Scott Rawson,  executive director of Centre LifeLink, an EMS provider in Centre County. “And their fee structure — it doesn’t cover our cost to provide the service.”

Gov. Tom Wolf signing an anti-discrimination executive order in April 2016.
Courtesy of Pa. Dept. of General Services

Should private schools that benefit from Pennsylvania’s tax credit programs adhere to the rules of the public system?

That debate often revolves around school accountability because the state does not require private schools to administer and publish the results of standardized tests.

But the question has also cropped up in recent weeks around an entirely different issue — employee discrimination.

Ashley Oleson, with the League of Women Voters of Maryland, carries signs of the state's districts, before oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamon in front of the Supreme Court, Wednesday, March 28, 2018.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

 

This month the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to deliver two highly anticipated decisions on cases involving partisan gerrymandering — one from Wisconsin and the other from Maryland.

The central question in both cases is: How much politics is too much when it comes to drawing the boundaries of a voting district?

In the past, the court has said it couldn’t answer that question.

Pennsylvania’s population is on the rise again.
Source: Pennsylvania State Data Center

Pennsylvania’s population is on the rise again, after declining in 2016 — but growth remains concentrated in certain spots, and most communities keep losing residents.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s population estimates show the state lost people during 2016, but added more than 18,000 last year, the most since 2012, according to a Keystone Crossroads analysis of the latest statistics.

Alisha Risser owns and runs a dairy farm in Lebanon county. Having been in the business for 17 years, Risser said consistently low milk prices in recent years have been really hard for farmers.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Along stretches of farmland on South Lincoln Avenue in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, you will notice yard signs with bright orange letters that read, “SAVE OUR LOCAL DAIRY FARMS.”

Alisha Risser owns one of those dairy farms.

Seventeen years ago, Risser and her husband started a contract with Swiss Premium, a brand of the national distributor Dean Foods. In those days, Risser said business was good.

Malcolm Kenyatta, who won the Democratic nod for the 181st district in the Pa. Legislature, cheers during the first night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016.
Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

The Pennsylvania Legislature is poised to soon make history as it welcomes its first openly gay lawmaker of color.

Malcolm Kenyatta won the Democratic nomination for Philadelphia’s 181st District during last week’s primary, and, given the city’s voter registration numbers, is strongly favored to assume the seat.

For the 27-year-old, who grew up in the projects, the idea of being a role model is appealing.

Students at an art class in Overbrook High School in Philadelphia in 2016. State Senator Vincent Hughes has cited Overbrook as an example of a school in need of repair.
Emily Cohen for WHYY

Pennsylvania’s system for funding school construction projects is old.

How old, you ask?

Current statute requires school districts submit their proposals in microficheformat.

“[Anything] that mentions microfiche is probably worth revisiting and looking to update,” said Pedro Rivera, Pennsylvania’s secretary of education.

Jovan Weaver, principal of Wister Elementary School.
Jessica Kourkounis / WHYY

Season two of the Keystone Crossroads podcast “Schooled” looks at one elementary school in Philadelphia that sparked debate when the district turned it over to a charter organization. WPSU’s Emily Reddy talked with the host of “Schooled,” Kevin McCorry, who followed the school through its first year as a charter school under principal Jovan Weaver.

Forty-two Pennsylvania dairy farms scrambled in search for new markets after receiving contract termination notices about a month ago from Dean Foods, a national distributor based in Texas. Since then, two distributors in the state have entered agreements with some of those farms.

Harrisburg Dairies will pick up nine farms in the Lebanon-Lancaster area, while Schneider’s Dairy in Pittsburgh decided to take on four farms from Clarion and Venango counties. 

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania hosted a public hearing in Tioga County on Thursday, hearing from providers and consumers about the lack of broadband access in rural areas.
Min Xian / WPSU

Dr. Robert Gillio is in charge of telemedicine at J.C. Blair Hospital in Huntingdon county.

But he has no internet access at home.

“I can’t get Comcast at my house, two miles from the hospital,” Gillio said. “I want to log in at home and help? I got to drive to the damn hospital to log in to help my patient with telemedicine.”

One of the nation’s largest dairy distributors is ending its contract with dozens of Pennsylvania dairy farms at the end of May — a decision that reflects challenges faced by the industry.

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

No one could argue that Olney, in upper North Philadelphia, is gentrifying. But that doesn’t mean the neighborhood isn’t revitalizing. In the afternoon when schools let out, kids weighed down with colorful backpacks fill the sidewalks of tidy rowhome blocks. The neighborhood’s North 5th Street shopping district bustles with Colombian cafes, Jamaican bakeries, and Korean restaurants. Over the last 15 years, neighborhood’s population growth has greatly outstripped city averages no matter how it is measured.

Tonetta Graham on her Strawberry Mansion porch, in philadelphia, PA.
Bastiaan Slabbers for WHYY

This story originally appeared on PlanPhilly.

If Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion section gentrifies, Tonetta Graham knows her block is bound to change. She owns a house on 30th Street, right around the corner from her childhood home. It cuts a striking figure. Painted candy apple red with white trim, Graham’s house stands alone, the sole remaining building on this side of the block. Vacant lots surround it, some strewn with tires and old mattresses.

James Earl Davis, a Professor of Urban Education at Temple University and his golden doodle, Baldwin, pictured in his home in East Germantown.
Brad Larrison for WHYY

Temple University education professor James Earl Davis and his partner moved into their stately 150-year-old Victorian home in East Germantown in 2001, at a time when the neighborhood was, well, iffy.

“The car was broken into around 2002 because there was money and CDs on the front seat. They broke the window and got those, but that was kind of an urban novice error,” Davis recalled with a knowing laugh.

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