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.

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.

Claudia Sherrod (left) and Haley Dervinis (right) both live in Point Breeze. Although Dervinis is a newcomer, she's also wary of the rapid change.
Emma Lee / WHYY

Debbie Bell knows what it is to be made to feel like an afterthought.

She’s a lifelong resident of Point Breeze, a historically low-income African-American neighborhood in South Philadelphia that’s seen a lot of change lately.

To hear longtime neighbors like Bell tell it, Point Breeze used to be about pride. It was mothers cooking collard greens. People pulling together to help each other make the rent when times got hard. It was friendly competitions to see who had the tidiest block.

It was about community.

A view of Society Hill taken from inside the Society Hill Towers.
Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

 

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
AP Photo

(Harrisburg) -- In the wake of last month's shooting in Parkland, Florida, the state auditor general is expanding the scope of school districts audits in the hopes of improving safety.

Eugene DePasquale says his office will take a deep dive on the security procedures at all of the commonwealth's public schools.

Previously, districts that performed well financially and academically received less scrutiny. 

A blighted home sits on 12th Avenue in Altoona, Pennsylvania.
Min Xian / WPSU

Altoona’s Blight Task Force released a plan Wednesday to address the city’s rundown property problem. The plan looked at the extent of blight in Altoona and recommended next steps.

Over the past five months, the task force surveyed the city's housing conditions. They found more than half of about 9,000 parcels of land surveyed are in need of minor repairs, such as a new coat of paint. Meanwhile, nearly 400 parcels require major repairs and even demolition.

After more than a decade spent in a state financial oversight program, Pittsburgh regained its fiscal independence last month. More than a dozen Pennsylvania cities remain in the program.
Margaret J. Krauss / WESA

On a Monday morning in February, people packed the Pittsburgh mayor’s conference room to witness the city’s successful transition to financial independence — an event lauded as a turning point for the city’s future.

Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Quick in between campaign calls on a recent afternoon. Quick is running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the new 9th Congressional District.
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

Democratic congressional hopeful Laura Quick and two campaign staffers recently set up shop for the afternoon inside a Panera Bread not too far from her home in Palmyra, Lebanon County.

They’d popped open their laptops on the table closest to a fireplace going full blast. That warmth would probably be welcome on most February afternoons, but it was an unseasonable 70 degrees outside.

“I asked them to turn it off, but they can’t,” explained Josh Brady, 23, Quick’s unofficial numbers guy.

So they decided to deal with the extra heat.

From left to right: Diego Uribe, Ben Shaman, Jake Richard, and Quinn Berger evalute Pennsylvania's new congressional district map compared to the 2011 version at the Westtown School in West Chester, Pa.
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

In the days after the Pa. Supreme Court released its new congressional map, students in Jon Kimmel’s 8th grade math class huddled around computers to analyze the changes.

The class has been closely following the twists and turns of a case that could have an impact on the balance of power in Washington D.C.

The map of Pennsylvania Congressional districts, released February 19, 2018 by the PA Supreme Court.
PA Supreme Court

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has enacted a new congressional district map that onlookers say is much more favorable to Democrats, replacing one the court overturned and deemed an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander last month.

Teacher Jon Kimmel in his classroom at Westtown School in Chester County, Pa.
Avi Wolfman-Arent / Keystone Crossroads

Viewed from a distance, Westtown School in Chester County, Pennsylvania seems like precisely the place you’d expect a conversation on redistricting and gerrymandering. The Quaker private school sits at the juncture of two especially contorted congressional districts — the 6th and 7th — and counts among its core values “peace and justice in community and in the world.”

A map of the 7th congressional district. Gerrymandering has divided the communities of the 7th congressional district in Montgomery and Chester counties. The district incorporates most of Delaware County and portions of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lanc
Dan Gleiter / PennLive.com

In a full majority opinion released Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the state’s congressional district map deprives voters’ of their right to “free and equal” elections as protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

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