Why Pa.’s New School Funding Formula Is Still Unfair and Unconstitutional

Photo by Christopher Futcher/iStock

Photo by Christopher Futcher/iStock

(Editor’s note: This is an opinion column from guest writer Michael Churchill. Churchill is a staff attorney at the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia.)

While politicians and advocates are celebrating the legislature’s passage last week of a student-based, fair formula for distributing new school funds, it is important to understand this reality: Our school funding system is as unconstitutional today as it was last week. Read more »

The Incredible Political Insurgency of Chris Rabb

Photo via Mary B Photography

Chris Rabb | Photo via Mary B Photography

How did Chris Rabb do it?

In a city where political machines crush challengers like grapes, the 46-year-old adjunct professor defeated an establishment-backed incumbent in the April primary. Rabb’s opponent in the race for Pennsylvania’s 200th House District seat — state Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis — was endorsed by Gov. Tom Wolf, former Gov. Ed Rendell and Mayor Jim Kenney. Even more importantly, Cook-Artis is a member of the mighty Northwest Coalition, a group of African-American politicians that has racked up electoral win after electoral win in the last few years.

Philadelphia magazine talked with Rabb about how he overcame the odds, how other political insurgents can do the same, and what he’ll pursue in office if he wins the general election against Republican Latryse McDowell as expected. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Read more »

LOCAL NEWS: Jim Kenney Responds to Girl Thrown Out of Harrisburg Prom

Photo | Jim Kenney

Photo | Jeff Fusco

A Harrisburg teen gets kicked out of her prom for wearing a suit, and Jim Kenney supports her on social media.

Last Friday, a junior at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg Aniya Wolf was kicked out of her prom for wearing a suit. The Catholic school in Harrisburg informed the teen — who identifies as a lesbian who doesn’t like to dress in girly clothing — of the dress code before the event. But when she decided to show up in a prom suit, they restricted her entrance in and threatened to call the police. “I think my experience shouldn’t be any different than anyone else’s because of something I was born with,” she told a local television station. Wolf added that although she feels accepted by the other students at her school, the administrators make her feel like a “mistake.” Read more »

Report: Rob McCord Was Wearing a Wire

Photo | Matt Slocum, AP

Photo | Matt Slocum, AP

Former state treasurer Rob McCord briefly wore a hidden microphone to tape conversations with political donors in cooperation with federal investigators before stepping down from the job and pleading guilty to extortion last year, the Inquirer revealed on Thursday.

The story asserts that investigators used McCord’s cooperation to gather information on Valley Forge Investment Corp., a company that helped other firms get public financial contracts and collected fees when they did. The story doesn’t reveal any additional wrongdoing by McCord, who has yet to be sentenced for the crimes he admitted last year.  Read more »

The No-Bullshit Guide: 2016 Election’s Biggest Winners and Losers

From L to R:

Clockwise: Mayor Jim Kenney, state Rep. Dwight Evans, Councilman Darrell Clarke, U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman and labor leader John Dougherty.

Oftentimes, elections feel like they’ve been decided by the powers that be before they’re even over. The 2016 primary was different: It was full of genuine nail-biters. At 8:30 p.m., I headed to state Rep. Dwight Evans’ Election Night party at Temptations on Chelten Avenue, and everyone around me spent the first hour-and-a-half of the celebration hunched over, obsessively refreshing the Department of State’s website on their phones as votes from different areas were counted. They weren’t just tracking Evans’ bid for the 2nd Congressional District seat — they were also following the Attorney General’s race, which looked like it might be won by Stephen Zappala at the beginning of the evening, as well as several close state legislative races.

By the end of the night, a seemingly unstoppable labor leader had lost, along with an indicted congressman, a bajillion-year incumbent, and a state representative who is part of one of the most powerful political machines in the city. What a wild election.

The Winners

1. The Northwest Coalition

The Northwest Coalition, led by Evans and former Councilwoman Marian Tasco, helped put Jim Kenney in the mayor’s office last year. The alliance was also instrumental in electing Derek Green and Cherelle Parker to Council. Now, one of its own is going to Congress — Evans defeated U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in the 2nd Congressional District race yesterday. (Yes, Evans will technically face Republican James Jones in the fall. But, with the district being overwhelmingly Democratic, we all know how this movie ends.) Another sign of the organization’s rising power: Relish, the Northwest Coalition’s Election Day lunch spot, drew bigger crowds yesterday than Famous 4th Street Deli.

What does this mean for the future? Good things for Parker, potentially, if she runs for mayor in 2023. It could also mean bad things for District Attorney Seth Williams if the Northwest Coalition decides to support a challenger when he runs for reelection next year. (Tasco isn’t a fan of Williams’.) It’s worth noting, however, that the coalition did suffer one loss yesterday, which proves it isn’t indestructible: state Rep. Tonyelle Cook-Artis, its pick in the 200th House District race, was not reelected. Read more »

Brian Sims Hangs On; Tonyelle Cook-Artis and Mark Cohen Get Booted

Mark Cohen, Brian Sims and Tonyelle Cook-Artis

Mark Cohen, Brian Sims and Tonyelle Cook-Artis. Photos | Facebook

There was a pretty shocking upset in the Democratic state House primary races yesterday: A very briefly tenured representative — who was the preferred candidate of Philadelphia’s surging Northwest Coalition — was knocked out of her seat. Harrisburg’s longest-serving Harrisburg representative was dumped by voters, too. And in the state Senate, an incumbent is holding onto a slim lead over a young challenger, but the race is too close to call.

None of the city’s Republican state representatives faced challenges in this year’s primary, but there were contested elections in 11 House and Senate districts on the Democratic side overall. In all but one of the races — the one in the 170th House District in the Northeast, where a Republican holds the seat — incumbents, some of them elected only last month, faced challenges from one or more candidates.

Five of the contests warrant special mention: Read more »

WATCH: NE Philly Rep. White Clashes with Immigration Activists

Al Día has posted a video showing Northeast Philly State Rep. Martina White yelling at immigrants’ rights activists in her Harrisburg office.

Last month, White introduced a bill that would hold sanctuary cities — ones that bar local cooperation with federal immigration authorities — “liable for damages on account of an injury to a person or property as a result of criminal activity by an unauthorized alien.” Read more »

Watch Out, Brian Sims: Your Challenger Ben Waxman Is Getting Big Ward Endorsements


L: Ben Waxman, former state Senate aide. R: State Rep. Brian Sims.

When Brian Sims won a state House seat in 2012 by defeating 14-term incumbent Babette Josephs, he infuriated her. In his first couple years in office, Sims also enraged the city’s Democratic machine by endorsing people who ran against House Democrats and accusing a colleague of “arguing with plants.”

Now Ben Waxman, a former state Senate aide, is running against Sims in this year’s primary election, and in recent weeks, Waxman has won the endorsement of two Democratic wards in the 182nd legislative district: the 5th Ward and the 8th Ward. (The only other ward in the district — the 2nd Ward — hasn’t announced its plans, according to Waxman’s and Sims’ campaigns.) This is bad news for Sims: It means that Waxman has locked down Sims’ home ward (the 5th) and the biggest ward in the district (the 8th), both of which will help Waxman get out of the vote on Election Day.

More often than not, Philly’s Democratic wards support incumbents. So this development raises an interesting question: Is Sims still paying the price for running as an insurgent against Josephs in 2012? Or has he simply failed to develop relationships in the city’s ward system? Read more »

Is Pa. House Rushing to Pass a Controversial Abortion Bill?

Opponents and supporters of Planned Parenthood demonstrate Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Philadelphia.

Opponents and supporters of Planned Parenthood demonstrate Tuesday, July 28, 2015, in Philadelphia.

A controversial bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks is on the schedule for Wednesday’s house session, according to Steve Miskin, spokesman for Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Dave Reed. At that time a vote may take place or could be postponed. The bill passed out of the House Health Committee on Monday.

In addition to shortening the timeline for legal abortions from the current 24-week cut-off, House Bill 1948 would also ban what it calls “dismemberment abortions” — a procedure currently known as dilation and evacuation, it involves dilating the uterus then removing the fetus using a vacuum and surgical tools. It is one of the main abortion methods for women in their second trimester.

The bill is primarily sponsored by staunch pro-life advocate State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R), of the 65th district. The bill currently has 101 co-sponsors, at least 11 of whom are Democrats. In a November memo sent to house members to gain sponsorship for the bill, Rapp and co-sponsors Rep. Bryan Barbin and Rep. Bryan Cutler wrote one of their primary reasons in creating the bill was because of evidence that the babies are capable of feeling pain at that stage.  Read more »

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