Open Seat 48th E-Newsletter

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Week of March 26, 2018

Secretary of Agriculture Requests Extension on Termination Notices for 42 Pennsylvania Dairy Farmers

Per a press release from Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding announced that he has sent a letter to Dean Dairy Holdings LLC following the announcement that the company provided termination notices to 42 Pennsylvania dairy farmers, effective May 31, 2018. Sec. Redding’s correspondence requested Dean Foods to extend the deadline so that those affected may more effectively transition to other markets.

Last month, Sec. Redding testified before the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee to discuss the crisis and ways the Department of Agriculture is poised to help. Additionally, the Department last week placed several resources online for dairy farmers experiencing hardship.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s programs and services, or to read the state’s Agriculture Economic Impact Study, visit the department’s website at

Column:  It’s About the Kids

“It’s about the kids.”  From the time I was first elected to the General Assembly, these are the words I’ve been hearing about education:  “it’s about the kids.”  The drumbeat became louder during my tenure as chair of the Senate Education Committee:  “it’s about the kids.”

A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Department of Education has me wondering about what’s most important to education:  is it really “about the kids”?  I’m especially concerned about the education of approximately 335 students within my District who live in Highspire.

In 2014, Highspire residents initiated action to move students from the Steelton-Highspire School District to the Middletown Area School District.  Their argument was such a transfer would be in the best educational interest of present and future school-age children living in Highspire.

Both the Steelton-Highspire and Middletown Area School Districts opposed this proposed transfer.  Steel-Hi was “opposed to this transfer based on the negative impact to educational quality this transfer will have on the remaining Steelton students and on the Highspire students, were they to transfer . . . .”  The School District added to its strong opposition citing the financial ramifications such a transfer would have on remaining students.

The Middletown Area School District also opposed the transfer of students from Highspire to their school district.  Middletown strongly believed the proposed transfer would adversely impact its student class size, special education service, and overall academic achievement, particularly at the elementary level.

While I don’t question the opinions of the parents or the positions of the two school districts, this proposed transfer of 335 students is precisely why I support educational choice.  I believe kids win when parents choose.  I simply don’t believe a child’s education should depend upon their zip code.

There are a number of plans for school choice.  Charter schools are publicly-funded schools that operate under a charter – often without some of the government regulations imposed on other public schools.

Cyber charter schools are also schools of choice but they teach students entirely or primarily online or through the internet.  Cyber schools and homeschooling are similar in that students’ education is usually dependent upon a parent or tutor.

Private schools rely upon finding their own funding:  tuition paid by parents, grants, donations, endowments, and sometimes vouchers.  Some private schools are affiliated with religious groups, like Catholic parochial schools.  Parents choosing this educational option need to cover the tuition costs that are in addition to the school taxes they pay to fund public schools.

Opponents of school choice are quick to criticize these options.  They don’t like charter and cyber charter schools.  They often have little or no respect for home schoolers.  School vouchers:  don’t ever go there – especially for private and parochial schools as vouchers would destroy education as we know it.

You can add to educational opponents’ list a recent legislative proposal to help students in persistently underperforming schools through the establishment of education savings accounts (ESAs).  This plan would allow approved families to withdraw their students from underperforming schools and receive the average state funding per pupil – deducted from the local district’s state education subsidy – as a grant from an account held in the Pennsylvania Treasury.

I believe ESAs would be a good way to help students like the 335 who live in Highspire.  Opponents disagree and they’ve been successful in keeping ESA legislation from advancing in the General Assembly.  They again say giving parents the resources and the ability to choose where their children go to school would hurt the overall education system.

And, I thought education was supposed to be all about the kids?

Senate State Government Committee to Hold Public Hearing on Redistricting Legislation

Senator Mike Folmer (R – 48), as chair of the Senate State Government Committee, will hold a public hearing on a number of bills to change how Pennsylvania’s redistricting process is conducted.

Senate Bill 22 (Senators Boscola and Scavello), Senate Bill 243 (Senator Leach), Senate Bill 464 (Senator Blake), and Senate Bill 767 (Senator Costa) are all proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution to change the process for how election lines are drawn.

“Redistricting changes have long been a goal of mine and I had planned to hold a series of hearings on bills that have been referred to the Senate State Government Committee, however, lawsuits over the 2011 maps were filed and I was previously forced to put these hearings on hold,” said Folmer.

Senator Folmer hopes the public hearing on possible redistricting changes will help to identify ways to better promote openness, transparency, and accountability, which have long been goals of his.

Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution as amended by the 14th Amendment establishes the requirement to apportion Congressional Districts and gives the states authority to establish the qualifications.  Article II, Sections 16 and 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution establish the number of House and Senate members for the General Assembly and the manner in which District lines are to be established.

“As someone who both carries – and reads – these documents, I take seriously the powers and duties of government so as to ensure we never forget their intended purpose of representing ‘We the People,’” added Folmer.

The public hearing will be held at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, March 27 in Hearing Room One, North Office Building, Harrisburg.

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