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.

At the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia Thursday, the national anti-death penalty organization Witness to Innocence calls for Pennsylvania to abolish the death penalty.
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Witness to Innocence, a national anti-death penalty organization based in Philadelphia, staged an event in the city Thursday calling for Pennsylvania to abolish the death penalty.

Led by exonerated death row inmates, WTI uses the first-hand experiences of the wrongly convicted to push for an end to executions in the U.S. — calling the death penalty the biggest problem in a “fatally flawed” criminal justice system.

Midterm voter turnout increased up statewide in Pennsylvania from 43 percent in 2014 to 58 percent this year.
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

Voter turnout was up in every county in Pennsylvania this year compared to the last midterm election in 2014.

Statewide, it jumped from 43 percent in 2014 to 58 percent, according to our analysis of Department of State data.

Preliminary ballot counts suggested as much, but the state only just released data this week making it official.

Tamaqua parent Rebecca Kowalski criticizes the school board's new policy that would authorize the training and arming of some teachers and staff.
Matt Smith for Keystone Crossroads

Nearly three hours into a special meeting about a policy that would ask some staff at the Tamaqua Area School District to carry guns, parent Liz Pinkey read aloud a letter from educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

They had written to the Pennsylvania State Senate last year, when lawmakers were debating a bill to allow personnel with concealed carry permits to be armed on school property.

State Rep. Tina Davis, a Democrat, knocks on doors in Bucks County in her attempt to win Pennsylvania's 6th Senatorial District.
Jim Saksa/Keystone Crossroads

“Do you walk that slow?”

Tina Davis is impatient. It’s cold and blustery on this Sunday morning in Levittown, but it’s not the weather that has her so eager to get going. Davis is a Democratic state representative challenging long-time incumbent Robert “Tommy” Tomlinson for the Pennsylvania 6th Senate District seat, and she’s the underdog. If she wants a shot at winning, Davis knows she needs to out-hustle her opponent.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr. (left) and Congressman Lou Barletta both hail from Northeastern Pennsylvania's coal region. Their philosophies, though, are worlds apart.
Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP and loubarletta.com

More Than Half Of Pa. Public Schools Do Not Have A Teacher Of Color

Oct 31, 2018
Sharif El-Mekki, principal of Mastery Shoemaker Elementary in Philadelphia, founded a group that seeks to boost the number of black male educators. Here pictured in front of his school with two students.
Emma Lee/WHYY

More than 60 years after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, an analysis of state data shows persistently stark disparities between the racial composition of teachers and students in Pennsylvania’s schools — among the widest gaps in the country.

Just 5.6 percent of Pennsylvania’s teachers are persons of color, compared to 33.1 percent of its students.

The data also show 55 percent of the state’s public schools and 38 percent of all school districts employed only white teachers. 

Educators fire off rounds during a concealed carry class for teachers Sunday, June 10, 2018, at Adventure Tactical Training in Farmer City, Illinois.
David Proeber, The Pantagraph via AP

A school district near Allentown recently, and rather quietly, became Pennsylvania’s first to pass a policy permitting teachers to carry guns in schools.

But a backlash has since developed, setting up a showdown over the place of guns in Pennsylvania schools that could set statewide precedent.

The new Pennsylvania congressional map.
image: PA Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to consider another appeal by Republican state lawmakers over this year's changes to Pennsylvania's congressional district map.

With the way the old districts were drawn in 2011, Republicans had such a substantial advantage that they captured nearly three-quarters of the state's congressional delegation with a far smaller share of statewide votes - in some years, fewer than half.

These lopsided results ultimately prompted lawsuits in 2017.

This combination of October 2017 file photos shows Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidates Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf, (left), and Republican Scott Wagner.
(Matt Rourke/AP Photo, file)

With under a month until the general election, Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and his Republican challenger Scott Wagner appear to be locked in an uneven contest.

Their latest financial disclosures show Wolf with $8.9 million on hand to Wagner’s $1.8 million. The incumbent is also leading by almost 17 points in an average of recent independent polls.

And the candidates’ divergent campaign styles are reflecting that divide.

When Craig Murphy walks into the headquarters of the Red Lion School District just southeast of the city of York, the receptionist greets him with a friendly and familiar hello.

Within minutes, Murphy is talking about taxes. His basic take: there’s too many of them and they’re too high.

“I see it that I’m going broke,” he said. “Where do you say enough’s enough?”

Steve Austin, a facilitator of Philadelphia's participatory defense program, talks about tapping the resources of the community that knows defendants.
Bastiaan Slabbers / Keystone Crossroads

It was an early autumn afternoon in 1975 — a moment that Steve Austin wishes he could take back.

Recalling that day recently, Austin took a deep breath, as if he were about to plunge into a deep, dark place.

“I killed a person. I took a person’s life,” he said. “It’s hard for me to talk about.”

Austin, 16 at the time, was selling ice cream at a street stand in his North Philadelphia neighborhood. That afternoon, he and a customer got into a heated exchange over a transaction.

The Blair County Courthouse sits on Allegheny Street in Hollidaysburg, PA. Private funding for the District Attorney Office and local law enforcement has put immense pressure on the county's public defenders.
Min Xian / Keystone Crossroads

Michael Fiore, 56, remembered, growing up, he never had to worry about drugs in his neighborhood or the violence that they sometimes inflict. He said, back then, his community in Blair County, home to Altoona and Hollidaysburg, was safe.

But as he got older, with the rise of the opioid crisis, he saw things change. 

Shawnray Byrd has been represented by the Allegheny County Public Defenders Office four times since 2001.
An-Li Herring / Keystone Crossroads

On a humid summer day, Shawnray Byrd works a new job renovating a home just outside Pittsburgh. During a break, he says he’s grateful to be employed and free.

“It’s like everything is just going uphill now,” he said.

The 37-year-old spent six months in jail after being charged with attempted homicide in 2017.  He said his public defender was crucial to his acquittal in March.

Pennsylvania Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, one of the most prominent voices for reforming Pennsylvania's public defense system, in his office in Montgomery County.
Emma Lee / WHYY

If you hunt hard enough around Harrisburg, it is possible to find lawmakers who are on board with allocating state money for the public defense of the poor.

Possible, but not easy.

One of the most prominent voices on the issue is State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf. The 78-year-old lawmaker, whose Harrisburg tenure dates back nearly four decades, has an issue with Pennsylvania’s system of public defense that is rooted in the U.S. Constitution.

Crystal Weimer was arrested in 2004 for third degree murder, a crime she didn’t commit. She spent nearly 12 years in prison and was exonerated on June 27, 2016, and all charges were dropped with prejudice.
Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY

Crystal Weimer’s nightmare began in 2004, when she was arrested for a crime she didn’t commit.

“When you go to jail, your whole family goes to jail,” Weimer said. “It’s just like a ripple effect — it’s just not you.”

She was charged with the murder of Curtis Haith, a 21-year-old who dreamed of becoming a chef.  Haith was shot in the face and beaten to death in front of his home in Fayette County, about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh.

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.

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