Philadelphia Daily News/Inquirer. February 5, 2023

Editorial: Keep Glen Mills Schools closed

The state rightly shut down the reform school in 2019 after The Inquirer exposed decades-long child abuse and cover-ups. The decision to reopen lacks real assurances that anything has changed.

Gov. Josh Shapiro should reverse the decision made by his predecessor’s administration to reopen the troubled Glen Mills Schools just three years after it was closed in response to complaints that students were beaten and abused.

Even barring the school’s controversial history, research shows youth incarceration is costly, does not improve public safety, and fails to set kids on a positive path to adulthood. Other states have closed reform schools and moved to a less punitive approach.

Pennsylvania should do the same rather than risk repeating its disturbing past.

In April 2019, then-Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration rightly shut down Glen Mills after The Inquirer exposed decades-long child abuse and cover-ups at the Delaware County reform school.

At the time, Wolf said, “revoking the license at Glen Mills Schools was the only acceptable action in response to the horrific and inexcusable mistreatment of children at the school.”

Then last month — with just one week to go in Wolf’s term — the state Department of Human Services granted Glen Mills a provisional license. Just nine months earlier, DHS denied the same request to reopen.

Glen Mills will have a new operator known as Clock Tower Schools, but the name appears to be the only thing that’s new. Clock Tower was formed in 2021 and lists the same address as Glen Mills. Clock Tower’s director is Christopher Spriggs, who was the acting executive director when Glen Mills closed.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Spriggs is not the only holdover from the bad old days. As part of the agreement, seven other Glen Mills staffers can return. The staffers swore under oath they knew nothing about any abuse at the school. Call it the Sgt. Schultz defense.

The settlement also calls for Clock Tower to pay an independent monitor to oversee operations. How independent can a person be if they are paid by the place they are monitoring?

DHS likewise said it is “committed to close and thorough monitoring” of Clock Tower. But the agency’s record here hardly instills confidence. DHS was told of the ongoing abuse at the school but did nothing until The Inquirer’s report.

Former students and staff members told the newspaper that counselors routinely choked and punched boys, breaking bones and knocking some of them unconscious. Incident reports showed one student’s jaw was broken and another was shoved into a cabinet headfirst.

The story detailed how staffers threatened the boys, saying they would be sent to worse facilities and forced to restart their sentences if they reported the incidents.

The abuse was such an open secret that a bartender at a local pub told an Inquirer reporter that counselors bragged over beers about punching students. The abuse was also discussed on online forums, message boards, and Facebook.

For the returning staffers to say they were not aware of the abuse is absurd. Same goes for Spriggs, who was hired at Glen Mills in 1994. Ditto DHS, whose shoddy oversight borders on willful incompetence.

Five years before The Inquirer story, a postdoctoral fellow at Pennsylvania State University who interviewed inmates at a state prison alerted DHS that six of them told her they had experienced or witnessed violent abuse while at Glen Mills.

A subsequent Inquirer story detailed how DHS ignored warnings from students, family members, and professionals about violence against young men at Glen Mills and other facilities.

After the initial Inquirer report, DHS launched an investigation that corroborated the newspaper’s account and led to the school’s closing. Glen Mills claimed there was “no credible evidence” and appealed. The school then launched a charm offensive. Between April 2019 and September 2021, Glen Mills spent more than $160,000 on lobbying.

Was the full-court press about helping vulnerable boys or making money? Before it closed, Glen Mills’ annual revenues were around $40 million. About 40% of the students came from Philadelphia, which paid the school $52,000 a year in taxpayer money for each student. The executive director before Spriggs received $336,000 in total compensation in the 2017 fiscal year.

Now the school is suddenly back in business with many of the same people in charge. What could possibly go wrong?

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. February 7, 2023

Editorial: A bureaucratic reform could transform Pa. government

It’s governmental malpractice that the state of Pennsylvania does not have a comprehensive list of permits and licenses, along with an official schedule for how long issuing decisions will take. Gov. Josh Shapiro’s executive order requiring the creation of such a schedule will be — if truly enforced — one of the most important economic development moves the state government could make.

Whether for a nurse waiting for a license to begin serving patients, or an entrepreneur planning to start a small business, or a multinational corporation looking to expand operations, predictability in licensing and permitting is essential. Indefinite delays and inconsistent communication send a clear signal from Harrisburg that Pennsylvania does not value the applicant’s time, talents or money.

This has practical consequences. For instance, the commonwealth’s absurd three-months average wait for a nursing license makes the hospital staffing crisis worse and hurts patients. Small businesses close, or never open to begin with, because they can’t get essential paperwork when they need it. Potentially transformative investments from large companies go to other states, like Ohio, with more efficient processes. In the last two cases, badly needed jobs are lost.

Mr. Shapiro claims, and we join anyone who’s ever dealt with the state bureaucracy in agreeing, that licensing and permitting efficiency can be increased without sacrificing safety or attention to detail. Pennsylvania’s unusually slow and unpredictable processes aren’t the result of unusually careful scrutiny. They’re the result of decades of built-up bad habits and a lack of accountability.

The executive order gives every state department that issues licenses and permits three months to provide the governor’s office with a full list of its offerings, and a timeline for answering applicants for each one. Mr. Shapiro’s team will then study each list and assign firm deadlines, balancing the bureaucracy’s duties of fairness, thoroughness and efficiency.

And those deadlines will have teeth: Departments will be required to refund application fees when they take too long. Nothing motivates a bureaucratic fiefdom like the threat of losing some cashflow.

There will be some hiccups. Some departments will need to make serious changes to their professional cultures to make the new deadlines work. Others will need new staff or more funding to improve their systems — requests Mr. Shapiro says he and the legislature will be happy to consider in his first budget this summer.

This executive order is a clear signal that the old way of doing business with, and within, state government is being seriously challenged. It helps shift state government from a posture of imperiousness, which forced residents and businesses to work with it on its own terms, to a posture of service. It won’t happen overnight, but it should have happened a long time ago.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. February 4, 2023

Editorial: Is Pennsylvania using anxiety as a gateway to marijuana?

Feeling anxious? You aren’t alone.

The National Institute of Mental Health puts the number of people diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at about 6.8 million adults. That’s more than 3% of the population. It doesn’t necessarily include those suffering from social anxiety disorder, panic attacks or phobias that also could fall under the anxious umbrella.

A three-year pandemic and its hand-in-hand economic crisis haven’t exactly helped.

While anti-anxiety medications are widely prescribed, only about 43% of people are being treated. That might have to do with side effects of the drugs or stigma regarding them.

Enter marijuana.

When Pennsylvania started its legalized medical marijuana program, it allowed for a list of conditions and illnesses. Cancer patients could get relief from pain and nausea and increase appetite. For glaucoma, it could reduce the pressure in the eye. Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and sickle cell anemia all could qualify for the program.

But, in 2019, anxiety was added. A Spotlight PA investigation showed that increased the number of people applying.

“It was a veritable tsunami of patients,” Lehigh Valley physician Charles Harris said.

Of the 385,000 certifications in 2021, 60% were for anxiety. For 40%, anxiety was the only condition listed.

That’s troublesome when Spotlight PA points toward the very money-driven, supervision-light process for approval of the medical marijuana.

For some, it might not matter. It seems like just one more step in the state’s slow slide toward legalization of recreational marijuana.

But what makes it problematic is that it reads like a knowingly created loophole in a system with few guardrails.

If Pennsylvania’s government wants to see legalization, it should stop winking and nodding and nudging it along.

On the other hand, if there’s a belief that only approved conditions should be allowed, the process for certification should be real rather than something like buying concert tickets from Ticketmaster.

The current system doesn’t just make a mockery of the idea of medical marijuana. It also shrugs off the reality of an anxiety diagnosis.

Scranton Times-Tribune. February 7, 2023

Editorial: Dog, pony show already costs $1 mil-plus

State House Republicans who spend an inordinate amount of time mewling about nonexistent vote fraud continue to engage in a fraud of their own, at high cost to taxpayers.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner twice has been elected by overwhelming margins in that city. But the House GOP has decided to use your money, and that of the very Philadelphians who elected Krasner, in a brazenly political crusade to remove him from office.

House Republicans passed impeachment articles against Krasner late in 2022, before they lost their House majority. The Senate Republican majority had scheduled a trial for January, before the state Commonwealth Court ruled, in a suit filed by Krasner, that the impeachment effort did not meet fundamental constitutional and legal standards to proceed.

Impeachment is valid only for misconduct in office, which Krasner clearly has not committed. Rather, House Republicans disagree with Krasner’s policies aimed at criminal justice reform. They blame him for gun violence in Philadelphia, while refusing to enact measures that he and the city government advocate to diminish that violence.

Now the ABC News affiliate in Philadelphia has reported the political misadventure to impeach Krasner already has cost at least $1 million, mostly in fees to the law firm K&L Gates.

The state Senate’s costs in preparing for the postponed trial have not yet been disclosed. Philadelphia has spent at least $25,000 so far in defending the right of city residents to elect their district attorney.

The meter continues to run. House Republicans have filed an appeal of the Commonwealth Court decision. The Supreme Court would well serve state taxpayers, and Philadelphia voters, by declining to take it.

Uniontown Herald-Standard. February 5, 2023

Editorial: Free breakfasts, lunches should be provided for students

We’ve heard time and again over the years that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, which roughly means that there’s no reward without effort.

That’s fair enough. But, in reality, there should be a free lunch — at least for students in our public schools.

And there was in the two years after the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the United States and other parts of the world. But a federal program that guaranteed free meals to K-12 students across the country, with no questions asked, came to an end with the 2022-23 academic year. As was the case before the pandemic, students can qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch, but those students and their families must run a gauntlet of paperwork and qualification rules. To fully comprehend how porous the American safety net is, a family of four must make below $36,000 per year in order to qualify for a free meal, and just above $51,000 to qualify for a reduced-price meal. Because of inflation that has seen food prices rocket past wage gains, more families are struggling to pay for meals at schools and are racking up debt.

There’s got to be a better way.

The simplest, most constructive and most compassionate solution would be making free school meals permanent. It would end the need for a cumbersome bureaucracy dedicated to scrutinizing pay stubs and collecting debt. It would also boost student health and educational outcomes, reduce childhood obesity and decrease behavioral problems. Some states are taking the initiative to provide free meals for students despite the expiration of the federal program: California and Maine have instituted their own programs; Vermont, Massachusetts and Nevada extended universal free meals through this school year; and Colorado is pulling together a plan to tax wealthier residents in order to support a $100 million free-meal program.

In September, then-Gov. Tom Wolf extended a free breakfast program through this school year. Without it, officials estimated that 16% of children in Pennsylvania would be arriving in classrooms in the morning with an empty stomach. State Sen. Lindsey Williams and Rep. Emily Kinkead, two Allegheny County Democrats, have introduced legislation that would create a permanent free meals program in the commonwealth. Kinkead explained, “This has been such an obvious fix that we need to be addressing, because investing in our kids has been shown over and over and over again to be one of the best methods to have a massive return on investment…”

The proposal has the support of the School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania. Across the country, free meals at schools has overwhelming support — 74% of voters, according to one poll, and 90% of parents. With those kinds of numbers, the support clearly stretches across political, demographic and socioeconomic lines.

Kinkead said, “We have a responsibility to kids in our schools. When they’re under our care, we have to care for them.”

That responsibility should include making sure they are not hungry.



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