Erie Times News. March 15, 2021.

Editorial: PA gets kids’ lunch money

We don’t want to attach too much significance to something insiders might not consider all that meaningful, but we’re nonetheless encouraged by the Biden administration’s quick work on a request to direct more than $1 billion in federally funded benefits to low-income families of Pennsylvania school children.

The money will help those families cover the cost of breakfasts and lunches the children would have received for free — or at reduced prices — through the National School Lunch Program had COVID not necessitated the shift from in-person to remote instruction during the 2020-2021 school year.

Since the benefits are funded by the federal government, on March 2, Pennsylvania’s departments of human services and education submitted the Wolf administration’s so-called Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer plan for approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.

Under the plan, the 928,000 or so Pennsylvania students who missed free or reduced school meals while learning remotely would be given $6.82 for every day they spent at home instead of at school.

Wolf’s office warned that it might not be until late spring that the distribution begins, estimating that the pre-loaded debit-style cards would not start arriving until about six weeks after the federal government approves the commonwealth’s plan.

But on Wednesday — eight days later — the FNS announced it had approved Pennsylvania’s plan to operate the P-EBT, putting the commonwealth on track to begin distributing funds in mid-April.

The speed at which the Biden administration acted sits in contrast to what happened in 2020.The Trump administration took more than two weeks to approve Pennsylvania’s spring 2020 plan and rejected the commonwealth’s fall 2020 plan to similarly distribute $42 million to the parents of about 330,000 children.

At the time, a story on quoted PA DHS Secretary Teresa Miller as saying the rejection, ostensibly on the grounds that it reached too few students, was “truly outrageous”. The story said that a USDA representative declined to further explain the government’s decision.

Instead it issued a statement from then-Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that said, in part, “This is a challenging time for many Americans, but it is reassuring to see President Trump and our fellow Americans stepping up to the challenges facing us to make sure kids and those facing hunger are fed.”

For what it’s worth, Perdue gave Politico, ABC News and others a statement containing that exact quote months earlier when they were reporting critically about his department’s response to a farming crisis caused by COVID-19. The same quote was also used around that time in response to questions surrounding a program allowing food stamp users to use their benefits to pay for groceries online.

“Pennsylvania has prioritized food security for school communities throughout the pandemic,” said Acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega in a statement on the importance of the P-EBT program. “The extension of the P-EBT benefit offers students and families continued access to resources that support their nutritional needs.”

We applaud the Wolf administration for seeking ways to combat hunger among our youngest citizens and the Biden administration for moving quickly to allow the funds to be used as Pennsylvania desires.

A brief compiled by the Food Research & Action Center, “based on numerous research findings,” bluntly says: “Children who do not eat breakfast at home or at school were less able to learn. Hunger can lead to lower math scores, attention problems, and behavior, emotional and academic problems. Furthermore, studies show that children who are consistently or often hungry are more likely to repeat a grade.”

Children in our communities should not be going hungry and we should all want them to learn as much as possible whether they’re in school or learning remotely.


Philadelphia Inquirer. March 11, 2021.

Editorial: Time for a more people-centered Ben Franklin Parkway. The Parkway should be the powerful artery that energizes and unites the city, but it’s an artery that’s clogged with vehicles

The Benjamin Franklin Parkway is Philadelphia’s living room — as well as the living embodiment of the city’s identity crisis. A sweeping boulevard conceived in the 19th century and built in the early 20th to connect City Hall and Fairmount Park, the Parkway serves as a mile-long “green carpet” populated by the city’s great institutions and ultimately ending at the steps of the Art Museum.

It’s a commons, where thousands gather to protest, parade, be entertained, or — for at least for five months last year — to live in tents in response to a city housing crisis. And it’s the backyard for the 70,000 or so people who live within a mile of its grounds. And it’s also a dangerous speedway that sees thousands of cars in and out of the city each day and sends pedestrians racing for their lives as they navigate it.

In other words, instead of serving a single coherent symbol of the greatness of a city, the Parkway is many places, often at odds with each other. It should be the powerful artery that energizes and unites the city, but it’s an artery clogged with vehicles — and whose progress has been clogged.

That’s why the news that the city has issued an RFP for a firm to provide a new plan for the Parkway to bring more order and design and elevate its potential as an urban public space is a bright spot in a year when one is sorely needed. Issued through the Department of Parks and Recreation, Office of Transportation Infrastructure and Sustainability (OTIS), and the Mayor’s Fund, the effort will be funded with a $360,000 grant from the William Penn Foundation. (Full disclosure: The William Penn Foundation has provided funding for grant-funded Inquirer projects.)

Every few years, there is renewed excitement about the Parkway’s potential and new energy around making it more coherent and people-centered. In 2002, the William Penn Foundation funded a process that launched a series of questions about what the Parkway should be. Some streetscape and other improvements were made. Then, in 2013, following the move of the Barnes to the Parkway, another effort was launched, centering on elevating its potential as a park and reducing its dominance by vehicles. In fact, that effort was called “More Park, Less Way.” Which is a good summary of the recurring heart of what holds the Parkway back as a public space.

What is different this time around are two forces that should drive discussion about what the Parkway should be: Our needs and assumptions about public space have been altered by the pandemic. And the demands for racial justice and equity reignited by the killing of George Floyd must be at the heart of discussions about public space — this public space in particular. To that end, the RFP (which has an April deadline) calls for an “ideas workshop” where members of the public can review design ideas among the RFP applicants. That public process, to be managed by the Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation at Drexel University, will be key to choosing the final plan. This represents a potential new chapter, not just for our parks, but our people.


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. March 14, 2021.

Editorial: Child care needs support

The nation’s child care system is reaching a point of collapse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the damage to such a critical safety net to our economy as well as to our families — one that supports other essential industries — demands continued government support.

Whether they are small in-home operations or those run by nonprofits or large chains, child care providers are teetering on the edge of financial stability.

Many closed because of declining enrollments. Parents were working from home, and children stayed with them. Or parents lost their jobs and didn’t need or couldn’t afford the cost of child care. Some providers couldn’t shoulder the costs of maintaining a safe, clean environment.

Procare Solutions, which provides child care management software, estimates that nearly a quarter of providers nationwide have closed because of the pandemic. In Pennsylvania, 481 licensed child care providers closed voluntarily during the pandemic and only 372 opened, according to the state Department of Human Services. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation reported that there were approximately 675,000 child care providers nationwide prior to the pandemic, and nearly two-thirds of those were small businesses struggling to remain open.

Any shortage of good, reliable child care threatens the restart of the economy. Fewer providers could realistically translate to fewer workers in the labor market. Women have been especially hard-hit. Vice President Kamala Harris said in February that the 2.5 million women who have left the workforce since the beginning of the pandemic constitutes a “national emergency.”

Some help is on the way via the latest federal COVID-19 relief measure. And in January, Gov. Tom Wolf announced the opportunity for one-time $600 grants for certain child care workers across the state.

A keen eye must be kept on this industry if the nation is to recover from the pandemic.


Johnstown Tribune Democrat. March 13, 2021.

Editorial: Fitting tribute for flood survivor, Johnstown hero

Victor Heiser’s wild ride through the 1889 Johnstown flood on a barn roof and his amazing medical career will be celebrated in his hometown – an appropriate gesture for this often-overlooked local hero.

In his acclaimed 1968 book, “The Johnstown Flood,” author David McCullough credits Heiser with saving 2 million lives through his work to address leprosy, smallpox, malaria, cholera and other afflictions across the globe.

That work was almost washed away before it could happen. McCullough interviewed Heiser for the book, and describes how the teen was working in his family’s barn on Washington Street when he heard a loud roar coming down the valley toward Johnstown, then watched as a huge wall of water and debris struck his house. His parents, George and Mathilda, were killed.

Heiser rode out the raging waters on a piece of the barn’s metal roof, eventually scrambling onto a building in Kernville to escape the torrent with other survivors.

The flood claimed the lives of 2,200 people on May 31, 1889.

An orphaned Heiser went on to study medicine at what was then Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, now Thomas Jefferson University.

The university, where a painting of Heiser hangs prominently, saluted their esteemed alum in February 2016 with the creation of the Victor Heiser Endowment Professorship at the Jefferson College of Population Health.

At the same time, the 1889 Foundation and Jefferson University announced a $7.5 million effort – the 1889 Foundation-Jefferson Center for Population Health – which established a research site in Johnstown.

“Victor Heiser is the appropriate person for this endowment to be named for,” the Jefferson College’s Dr. David Nash said in 2016. “We would like to take that legacy full circle.”

Heiser’s full-circle legacy is growing in Johnstown, where a $250,000 grant from the 1889 Foundation to the Johnstown Area Heritage Association will support the Johnstown Flood Museum Revitalization Project.

As our Dave Sutor reported, enhancements to the museum will include a “Voices of the Survivors” exhibit that will feature audio of Heiser’s interview with McCullough.

Heiser died in 1972 at the age of 99.

Susan Mann, president of 1889 Foundation, credited Heiser with helping to establish the concept of “population health” – addressing wellness issues with widespread impact – making him the perfect link between the flood museum and the 1889-Jefferson Center.

“The Victor Heiser story has such a connection to public health,” Mann said, “with Dr. Heiser surviving the flood, going off to Jefferson, so there’s that connection, but also then later in life he devoted his life to probably at the time what was not termed ‘public health,’ but he honestly was working in the area of public health and population health as we know it today.”

JAHA President Richard Burkert said the 1889 Foundation grant will help with an overall upgrade at the museum, with new “interactive media experiences,” he said.

The local grant will serve as a match as JAHA adds a $500,000 Pennsylvania Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project grant along with private foundation funding, Burkert said, to back a larger effort that will include work on the roof, gutters, masonry and the heating and air conditioning system at the Washington Street museum – about a block from where Heiser’s family home stood before the flood in 1889.

Heiser is buried high above the city at Grandview Cemetery, which also holds an 1889 flood memorial and the graves of the unidentified victims.

Shelley Johansson, JAHA’s director of marketing and communications, in 2016 called Heiser one of Johnstown’s “most influential citizens.”

Soon, even more people can hear his remarkable story – amazingly, in his own voice.


York Dispatch. March 14, 2021.

Editorial: Pandemic or not, rethink school time

The year-old coronavirus pandemic has left no aspect of Pennsylvania life untouched and no segment of the population unscathed.

But one consequence may have been obscured, perhaps, by the daily life-or-death struggles, the economic upheaval and the political pushback to public-health best practices: Widespread learning loss in the state’s public schools.

This is no knock against educators, who have pivoted to remote instruction, created hybrid coursework and taught on-site amid challenges including social distancing and masks.

And it’s no reflection on students, who have labored with their studies despite seeing their educational routines — like just about every other aspect of their young lives — uprooted by the challenges of a once-in-a-century public-health crisis.

Still, it comes as little surprise that overall student learning is suffering; the distractions and concerns of the past year haven’t exactly contributed to focusing on the sciences, calculus or a foreign language. And ongoing school closures aren’t helping.

In response, local school leaders, including those at the York City School District, are looking at expanding their summer school programs this year as a way to help students catch up. Instead of the usual three weeks of summer classes in the city school district, for example, officials are considering as many as eight or nine weeks of supplemental instruction.

Expanding classes through the summer is a wise and necessary conversation — one that, frankly, should have been held a long time ago.

Educators have been grappling with what’s known as summer learning loss for decades. On average, studies show, grade-school students can lose as much as 20% of their school-year gains during the long summer break. Younger students suffer more than older students; less well-to-do students suffer more than classmates from families with higher incomes.

The recommended remedies to this summer slide include keeping students intellectually engaged when school is out through reading, creative play and plenty of time away from screens both large and small.

While these strategies can be effective, they can also be difficult to enforce for low-income working parents — the same parents who also are likely to face the highest hurdles in providing education-enriching cultural opportunities like family trips or visits to museums.

Left ignored is the root cause of summer learning loss: the annual three-month discontinuation of class time.

The current schedule, while not exactly the remnant of the agrarian-centric earliest days of public education it is often portrayed as, nonetheless reflects changes and compromises that were made, for the most part, more than century ago.

An update is needed. While something as radical as year-round schooling is neither practical nor preferable, adhering to the current schedule out of little more than the force of habit is neither desirable nor defensible.

Pandemic-prompted concerns about educational backsliding provide a welcome impetus for revisiting the issue — especially seeing as the effects will take more than a few extra weeks of class this summer to rectify.

“The idea of trying to mitigate loss is not going to be a one-and-done thing,” York City School District Superintendent Andrea Berry told those attending a Feb. 17 school board meeting. “It’s going to be a multi-year process.”

With that in mind, educators should look beyond the immediate crisis and explore longer-term strategies.

The coronavirus pandemic has created its share of challenges, but it has also generated unexpected opportunities. The chance to rethink — and readjust — long-outdated academic schedules is one that local educators should take full advantage of.