Leaked audit is character assassination, Rep. Evans’ supporters say
With Councilwoman Marian Tasco leading the charge, several council members rose in council chambers on Thursday to defend state Rep. Dwight Evans and blast Gov. Tom Corbett, his administration and the media for an uncirculated report, leaked to the press, which seems to indicate financial improprieties by two local non-profits and by implication Evans.
“If there is a real smoking gun, where are the charges?” asked Tasco at Thursday’s city council meeting. “Or, is it the true aim to kill off these effective organizations by rumors, allegations and legal fees? Death by a thousand cuts.”
Several members spoke in support of Evans and against the administration and local news outlets. Tasco was the most vocal in her disapproval, her voice at times quivering with anger, as she spoke for nearly 10 minutes on what she said was a campaign against Black Philadelphians.
She was speaking about a report by the state inspector general’s office probing alleged financial irregularities at the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. and the Urban Affairs Coalition.
“The administration refused to share [the report] with the organizations named in the report,” said Tasco. “Why wouldn’t the Corbett administration share the audit and work to correct irregularities?”
The Tribune was unable to obtain a copy despite repeated requests.
Tasco said her office had not seen the report either, nor have OARC officials, nor has Evans, whose name has been linked to the report in press accounts.
“Nope,” replied Jack Kitchen, president and CEO of the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp. He then referred the Tribune to a letter from an attorney representing OARC to the governor’s chief counsel, Christopher C. Houston.
“OARC is being tried in the press without prior notice of the claims against it,” wrote attorney S. David Fineman from the Center City firm of Fineman, Krekstein & Harris. Fineman said the Inquirer declined to provide a copy of the report. Fineman went on to call the newspaper story a “one-sided media assault.”
Few people have seen the actual report that served as the basis for the media reports.
Evans said he had not tried to get a copy of the report, adding that he prefers to focus on his legislative agenda rather than get involved in mudslinging.
Tasco, too, said she had made no effort to get the report, but felt it should be made public. Bill Miller, a media spokesman for the Urban Affairs Coalition, did not respond to questions about the report on Thursday. In the past he has said that no one at the coalition has seen the report.
The governor’s office referred reporters to the inspector general’s office, which responded with a statement.
“The Office of Inspector General reviews all complaints received and does not target or single out any agency, vendor or grant recipient,” said Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner, in the statement. “Complaints come from a variety of sources, including private citizens, private businesses, state employees and other government entities. Once completed, investigative reports are provided to the involved state agencies and, when appropriate, could be referred to law enforcement authorities or the State Ethics Commission.”
The office again declined to release the report.
It was leaked to the Philadelphia Inquirer, which has run several stories based on the document that has not been made public. It was part of a campaign to “demonize those who craft solutions,” Tasco said, that was “deliberately misleading” and “full of inferences and innuendo.”
The councilwoman said she detected a deliberate campaign against Blacks by the Inquirer and one against Evans, a prominent Democrat who for years was head of the House appropriations committee, by the Republican administration.
She said that Evans had made powerful enemies during his tenure because of his dedication to the Black community.
“At the core of these battles is his dogged determination to improve the lives of the disadvantaged … through fair access to government resources, resources that heretofore have been denied to minority communities,” she said. “He learned that holding the purse can affect public policy decisions.”
The entire community benefitted, she said.
“Philadelphians, Black, white, Latinos and others … are still today benefitting from appropriations decisions made by Rep. Evans,” Tasco said, ticking off a list of projects that included the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Barnes Collection, Jewish museum and Please Touch Museum.
In Philadelphia, there is the belief that Blacks are unfit to lead, she added.
“There is a notion that the African-American community is not entitled to participate in decisions on allocating revenue of government resources, that we need to somehow be more closely monitored, that government in our hands is somehow more corrupt,” Tasco said. “The press perpetuates this myth.”
The story would have been different if the politicians had been white, she said.
“If he were a white legislator and this were a white neighborhood the Inquirer’s headline would read, ‘Committed State Legislator Turns Neighborhood Around After 30 Years of Hard Work.’”
The reports also angered council members Cindy Bass and Maria Quinones Sanchez.
“He [Evans] has supported the Latino community,” Sanchez said. “Not because we could vote for him, not because he could gain from it politically but because it was the right thing to do, supporting impoverished communities.”
According to published details of the report, the state was looking into irregularities since 1999, OARC has received $28 million in state grants and UAC has gotten about $24 million.
OARC, a non-profit dedicated to education, economic development and housing in West Oak Lane, was founded in 1983 by Evans.
The Urban Affairs Coalition manages between $20 and $50 million annually and has administered $390 million in state funds since 1999.
State investigators were reportedly trying to figure out if the coalition ignored grant rules, failed to keep track of grant monies and intentionally went around bidding regulations in its handling for a $400,000 grant for the North Philadelphia East Falls Neighborhood Initiative. State officials said coalition officials doled out the money in increments, cutting checks for $10,000, the maximum exemption for bidding rules.
In the period being investigated by state officials, a total of $1.5 million have been called into question.
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett is expected to sign one of the nation's toughest voter identification laws less than eight months before the presidential election, although a court challenge is also expected to the measure that handily passed the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The 104-88 vote came after three days of debate and accusations by Democrats that the bill is a Jim Crow-style attempt to discriminate against minorities and that no trail of voter fraud exists to justify making it more difficult for the elderly, disabled and poor to vote.
The GOP-controlled state Senate approved the measure last week, and Corbett, a Republican, has said he will sign it.
The bill would require voters to show certain photo identification before their votes could be counted beginning with this year's presidential election, prompting Democrats to accuse Republicans of trying to stop traditional Democratic-leaning voters — minorities, college students and the poor — from getting their ballots counted.
Republicans say the requirement is a common-sense step to prevent fraudulent double voting, voting by illegal immigrants, voter impersonation and fictitious voters. They also say that showing photo ID is a widely accepted function in daily American society. Voter ID has been a hot topic, with a number of Republican-controlled legislatures around the country passing such measures.
Democratic lawmakers and the American Civil Liberties Union have pledged to challenge the measure in court, once it becomes law.
The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania says systems are already in place to prevent duplicate or erroneous registration. It also warned lawmakers that adding the additional step of requiring poll workers to check photo IDs will lengthen Election Day lines at polling places and create voter confusion, but provide no extra security for ballots.
Many government employee photo IDs would be acceptable, as would student IDs from colleges and universities in Pennsylvania and IDs for people who live in elder-care institutions in the state, as long as they show a name, photo and expiration date that makes them current.
Someone without proper ID would be able to cast a provisional ballot, then would have six days to get an acceptable ID and deliver a copy to county election offices in person, by email or fax.
In response to any suggestion that a photo ID requirement amounts to an unconstitutional "poll tax," supporters of the bill note that it also will require the Department of Transportation to issue an identification card at no cost to anyone who applies and swears that he or she has no other proof of identification allowed under the law for voting purposes.
But Democrats say getting a photo ID requires obtaining other documents, such as a passport or birth certificate, which cost money to get and can take months to receive from the state. -- (AP)
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Gov. Tom Corbett says he will name former school board member Pedro Ramos to head the panel overseeing Philadelphia's public school system.
The governor said Wednesday that as soon as the state Senate confirms Ramos as a member of the panel, he will appoint him as chairman.
Corbett nominated Ramos on June 16 to fill a vacancy on the five-member governing body established in 2001 when the state assumed control of the district.
The Philadelphia School District is Pennsylvania's largest school district with about 203,000 traditional and charter school students. -- (AP)
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller received a welcome from the city during a reception at the Pyramid Club in Center City on Friday, April 27.
Attendees consisted of foreign dignitaries and prominent Philadelphians including: Stanley Straughter of the Mayor’s Commission of African-Caribbean Affairs; City Councilman David Oh; and former Mayor W. Wilson Goode.
“Our contribution belies the size of the population of Jamaica,” said Miller during her speech to the crowd of well-wishers. “Anywhere in the world you go, you will find Jamaicans making a valuable contribution.”
Miller was honored with the Liberty Bell Award given to her by Straughter.
“I am here on behalf of Mayor Michael Nutter to receive the prime minister and to give her the highest honor that anyone has ever received from the city of Philadelphia – the Liberty Bell,” he said
According to Straughter, the reception was a great opportunity to meet the prime minister and to hear her aspirations for Jamaica.
Although he couldn’t attend, Karen Stokes of the governor’s office read a statement written by Gov. Tom Corbett.
“As governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I am delighted to welcome her Excellency, Portia Simpson Miller, prime minster of Jamaica,” read the governor’s statement. “The Jamaican people, their culture and sport, hold a unique spot in the history of Pennsylvania.”
Afterward, guests flocked to introduce themselves and have photos with Miller
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from British colonialism, a fact referred to repeatedly during the program. Time Magazine also named Miller one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Miller sits on the Council of Women World Leaders and serves as Vice Chairperson of the Caribbean Forum of Ministers responsible for Decentralization among other accomplishments.
She told attendants about an incident, which occurred during her meeting of the Summit of the Americas in Columbia.
Miller had the opportunity to be one of only three women engaged in a discussion on education and development. During the summit, a moderator asked Miller how she hoped to compete against Ivy League universities and preparing her constituents for the world of work.
“I felt something rise up within me,” she said. “If we could produce the person that did the song of the millennium, Bob Marley, If we could give to the world Marcus Mosiah Garvey – those men and women who fought so hard for our freedom. What can we not do?”
Proponents of the statewide charter/cyber-charter reform bill have reloaded, and this time, they are carrying even more potent ammo: a scathing Special Report from Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner — one that is sure to add weight to the Charter School and Cyber Charter Reform and Accountability Act, championed by State Rep. Mike Fleck and a few of his colleagues.
While the Fleck-authored House Bill 2364 simply lays out options the commonwealth can undertake to stem what supporters consider the overfunding of charter schools — such as limiting unassigned fund balances, removing the so-called “double dip” in pension funding, limiting the amount of special education funding and requiring end-of-year audits — Wagner’s report outlines the consequences if Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, the General Assembly, and Pennsylvania Department of Education fail to act.
According to Wagner’s report, Pennsylvania spends roughly $3,000 more per student to educate a child in a charter school — and more than $3,500 per student in cyber charter schools — than it does on students enrolled in traditional public schools. By using those figures, Wagner’s report concluded the state could save $315 million by bringing the per-student expenditure more in line with that of traditional public schools. Wagner’s report also found that an additional $50 million could be saved through the elimination of the double-dip pension funding loophole.
“With the tightening of school budgets and funding available to school districts throughout the state, Pennsylvania’s flawed and overly generous funding formula for charter and cyber charter schools is a luxury taxpayers can no longer afford,” Wagner said. “While I have long supported alternative forms of education, as the state’s independent fiscal watchdog, I cannot look the other way and ignore a broken system in which charter and cyber charter schools are being funded at significantly higher levels than their actual cost of educating students.
“It is time for the Pennsylvania Department of Education, along with the General Assembly and the Corbett administration to fix Pennsylvania’s flawed funding formula for charter and cyber charter schools.”
While both Wagner’s report and HB 2354 outline ways the commonwealth can save money, neither document says the recouped money will be directly used to prop up the public education funding, especially in light of Corbett’s budget, which slashes the state’s funding of public education.
And how this plays out in Philadelphia remains to be seen, as more than 43,000 students attend either a charter or cyber charter school, according to the School District of Philadelphia. In the 2010-2011 academic year, the district paid $8,600 per pupil to the city’s charter schools, and paid those same charters $18,500 for every pupil that required special education. The district has already taken drastic steps to curb charter school funding on its own, with the creation and implementation of the Blueprint for Transforming Philadelphia’s Public Schools, which calls for a seven percent reduction in per-pupil funding, and an overall decrease of $149 million in charter school funding over the next five years.
The charter school reform issue has the support of State Representative James Roebuck, putting him at odds with charter school supporters such as fellow State Representative Dwight Evans and charter school pioneer Dr. Walter D. Palmer. Palmer has vowed to fight in court any moves to restrict charter school funding.
“At a time when public schools are still coping with last year’s state education cuts and local property taxpayers want to avoid another round of trickle-down tax hikes, it is only fair to taxpayers for all schools to play by the same rules,” said Roebuck, who also serves as the Democratic Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, of HB 2364. “These reforms should be in effect starting with the 2012-13 school year. We can provide this relief immediately to school districts and their taxpayers. These reforms would provide at least $45.8 million in savings for the coming school year, and probably much more than that."
Evans, long a proponent of school choice and charter schools, has stated he would use his full political might to fight off any challenges to charter schools - entities which he feels add more to society than critics want to admit.
“What I think is that people sometimes miss that charter schools are public schools first, and that second, parents have them as choices and options available to them,” Evans said. “Third, it’s an economic development opportunity.
“So you have the academic aspect, and the commercial,” Evans continued, noting that when a charter school is built, it creates immediate jobs and goes a long way toward community beautification. “Of course I am against [HB 2364].”
Still, charter reform has its supporters, including the powerful Pennsylvania School Boards Association, a non-profit statewide association of school districts.
“Charter and cyber charter funding formulas must be reflective of actual instructional expenses, predictable and based on logic,” said PSBA Executive Director Thomas J. Gentzel via a statement released by his office. “HB 2364 provides much needed charter school accountability to protect taxpayers and school entities from escalating costs.”
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Lawyers for the state of Pennsylvania and Harrisburg's mayor have asked a federal judge to throw out the bankruptcy petition for the city filed this week after a divided City Council voted for it.
Philadelphia attorney Neal Colton filed the state's objections to the bankruptcy on Friday, saying a state law expressly forbids it, while Harrisburg lawyer Kenneth Lee told the court the city and Mayor Linda Thompson believe the petition is not valid.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Mary France scheduled a status conference on the case Monday morning in Harrisburg.
"No one, least of all the commonwealth, denies that Harrisburg is confronted with serious financial difficulties that must be addressed," wrote Colton, who did not return a phone message. "That is all the more reason, however, why Harrisburg cannot afford to waste any further time and resources on this patently illegal usurpation of the commonwealth's sovereignty."
The law he cited was passed earlier this year to prohibit any third-class city that qualifies under state law as "financially distressed," a description that fits Harrisburg, from filing for bankruptcy until July 2012, and that it would lose all state funding if it did.
"The commonwealth is unaware of any reported case, from any jurisdiction in the United States, in which a municipality such as Harrisburg has so brazenly disregarded an express statutory denial of authority to file a Chapter 9 petition," Colton argued.
Mark D. Schwartz, the lawyer hired by the council to pursue the bankruptcy, said the law is poorly worded and is unconstitutional because it targeted Harrisburg in particular.
"This hardly seems to be a prohibition," he said. "It says you shouldn't, but if you do, this is what happens. OK, fine."
He said a small amount of state funding is at stake.
"If that's the penalty for filing, so be it," Schwartz said.
Lee said the council majority and Schwartz did not have the authority to file for bankruptcy and asked France to dismiss the petition.
"The city is extremely concerned that members of the City Council and attorney Schwartz will attempt to further perpetuate this unauthorized bankruptcy case to the detriment of the city, its creditors and other stakeholders in blatant disregard of the proper procedures for the functioning of the city," Lee wrote in an emergency request filed late Thursday.
Schwartz said Thompson is not entitled to play an active part in the bankruptcy case.
"That may be the one thing the governor, General Assembly and I agree on — she has absolutely no role in these proceedings," he said.
Schwartz filed the Chapter 9 bankruptcy petition after City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to authorize it. It said the city is saddled with about $458 million in creditors and claims, and is in "imminent jeopardy" from six pending lawsuits related to its aging, debt-saddled municipal incinerator.
The council majority and Thompson have clashed over a recovery plan developed with state officials, leading area state lawmakers to push a bill that would let the governor declare a state of fiscal emergency and install someone to make decisions about government services and spending.
That measure, supported by Gov. Tom Corbett, has passed the House and is expected to be taken up by the Senate next week. -- (AP)
One day after a Republican judge issued a ruling in support of the state’s controversial and hotly contested voter ID law, attorneys for the petitioners filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court.
The law, which opponents said was rushed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives to the desk of Governor Tom Corbett to sign, requires voters to produce a valid state-issued identification card at the polls and was challenged in court. On Wednesday, Judge Robert Simpson issued a ruling stating that the petitioners didn’t present convincing proof that the law violated the state constitution or would cause undue hardship to the elderly, the poor and student voters in the upcoming November presidential elections. Simpson said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support issuing an injunction.
“Hundreds of thousands of voters could be effectively shut out of the election process under the guise of voter fraud,” said Democratic state Senator Vincent Hughes. “Without any evidence of this so-called fraud, this law is nothing more than another way to tip the odds in favor of the Republican presidential candidate this November. This is an extremely partisan law that Pennsylvania is ill-prepared to implement. It is my plan to continue to fight this voter suppression law, and assist the public with obtaining the necessary documentation to vote in November.”
Democratic legislators said the law tramples on the constitutional rights of voters and amounts to nothing more than a re-formulated poll tax or literacy test that was once used to discriminate against Black and other minority voters. Opponents say the law is nothing less than voter suppression.
“We should not make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote,” said state Senator Mike Stack. “The passage of the voter ID measure into law and subsequent court ruling are extremely disappointing because this law was crafted for partisan advantage, rather than voter protection. When laws are crafted for partisan political gain, we lose the public’s trust.”
House Bill 934, now Act 18, was passed on March 14, 2012. Republican lawmakers who backed the measure said it was to prevent voter fraud, but legal experts on the state and federal level could find no reports of voter fraud. Democratic lawmakers warned from the initial introduction of the measure, sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalf, R-Butler, that its purpose was voter suppression and its real purpose was to stack the odds in favor of Mitt Romney in November. Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed Act 18 into law once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the Commonwealth one of 16 Republican-controlled states to have such a law.
Votes by four justices would be needed to overturn Judge Simpson’s ruling. At present the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is split between three Republicans and three Democrats. Republican Justice Joan Orie Melvin was recently suspended following allegations of corruption.
“We’re going to need four of the six justices to vote in our favor if we’re to get an injunction,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania. “Our legal posture was to block enforcement of the law to basically give all parties a chance to review its legality and merits. We’re still analyzing Judge Simpson’s decision. We filed a motion to expedite everything and while there may be an oral argument, we’re expecting a decision by September 10. If the justices rule in favor of the law, it’s going to be a sad day for democracy and we’ll see exactly what that means in November. Hundreds of thousands of people will be unable to vote and we’re not just talking about poor minorities; what about poor whites in rural counties? This law applies across the board.”
TRENTON, N.J. — Hundreds of environmental activists gathered in Trenton on Monday for a rally that became a celebration of a delay in natural gas drilling in the Delaware River watershed.
But the drilling opponents, including actors Debra Winger and Mark Ruffalo, cautioned that their battle isn't over yet after the Delaware River Basin Commission decided last week to delay a vote on rules for drilling, leaving a moratorium in place.
"We have more time for building more evidence and more allies," Maya Van Rossum, head of the advocacy group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, told the crowd.
The commission, which monitors water quality in an area that includes parts of four states and provides drinking water for more than 15 million people, had been scheduled to vote Monday on rules on natural gas drilling in the region.
Opponents and supporters of drilling were preparing to descend on Trenton for the vote. Some opponents on Monday suggested they were prepared to engage in civil disobedience to disrupt the meeting.
The commission, which has board members representing the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania and the Obama Administration, abruptly postponed the vote last week after Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said he would vote against the rules, making the outcome uncertain.
The commission has not said when a new vote could be scheduled.
Energy companies are eager to drill in northeastern Pennsylvania's portions of the Marcellus Shale, a giant underground rock formation. Opponents say the method, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, endangers drinking water. Its supporters say the drilling would not harm water supplies.
The debate over the rules is emotional. Energy companies and many residents say the drilling would bring desperately needed jobs to a downtrodden area. Many of them say the proposed rules, which would initially limit the number of wells to 300 and require a $5 million bond for each one, are too onerous.
But environmentalists say any drilling is potentially disastrous.
They chanted on Monday, "No fracking way," and some had signs linking the cause to Occupy Wall Street. They walked to the State House in hopes of persuading New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to vote "no."
Most observers expected Christie to support the regulations, but at a news conference on Monday, he said he had not committed.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett was expected to vote in favor of the regulations. Markell and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo were expected to vote against them. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which represents President Barack Obama on the commission, has not said how it will vote.
Christie said commission members need to work harder to come to an agreement.
"I haven't taken a position yet on those rules, and I'm glad I didn't because now it appears that a number of the states want to change the rules as they were proposed. It sounds like there's some confusion with Delaware and New York in terms of their positions on it," he said. "So, my view is, let's have everybody go back to work and be talking to each other and try to come up with a set of rules that, if possible, people can be supportive of."
The activists took credit Monday for flipping Markell's position, pushing back the scheduled vote and putting the fate of the rules in question. "You shut them down by swarming them with calls, swarming them with emails and the threat you'd show up here today," said Josh Fox, who made the anti-fracking documentary film, "Gasland."
Winger said protesters need to keep working.
"I get scared right after the victory," she said. -- (AP)
Jerry Jordan fears Gov. Tom Corbett’s evaluation plan may be unfair
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan is completely on board with the concept of finding better ways to evaluate and turn out the most productive teachers. But he is leery that Gov. Tom Corbett, in his push to ‘improve’ the evaluation process, won’t recognize the many inequities that he said make school districts in Pennsylvania so vastly different.
“When you have a district that is less affluent, it is simply a greater challenge to ask teachers to perform the same job and get great results when they simply don’t have all of the necessary resources to get the job done,” Jordan said.
Last week Corbett introduced his four-point education reform plan, highlighting four areas his administration plans to address during the fall legislative session: charter schools; the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Program, opportunity scholarships and teacher evaluations. Corbett’s plan marks the first time academic achievement would be used as one of the indicators for evaluating teachers.
The governor said the current evaluation system is flawed and fails to provide useful feedback to allow educators to fully develop the teachers’ professional skills. The Pennsylvania Department of Education found that more than 99 percent of the state’s teachers received passing grades in 2009-10.
But Jordan said the disparity in resources between a district suffering from so many economic problems — most notably the $680 million budget gap the district has been attempting to close — and a more affluent district, creates certain inequities that make evaluating across districts almost impossible.
“One of the things that you have to look at and be honest about is the condition of your resources in a city like Philadelphia,” Jordan said. “Do we have the same resources in Philadelphia that teachers in a more affluent surrounding district might have?
“You have to look at the level of funding for each child,” he continued. “Lower Merion is spending about $21,000 annually for a child. Meanwhile, the district is spending about $12,000 per student. That’s a huge disparity. The playing field is not level. When you fail to give the resources to so many, and then you expect the same kind of results you’d get from children with significantly better resources — well, there’s just no equity in that.”
Matt Zieger, executive director of Team Pennsylvania Foundation, an organization on which Corbett is a co-chair, says that even with limited resources, the time has come for teacher evaluations to be wedded to student performance.
“A time of limited resources is exactly when we have to be asking how we use the resources most wisely to support student growth,” Zieger said. “A quality evaluation system will be able to prioritize support for teachers in the areas where it will have the most impact. Remember that Pennsylvania spends hundreds of millions per year on teacher professional development with little knowledge of exactly what a given teacher may need to become more effective. This will help solve that disconnect in a way that betters our kids.”
More than 100 districts across the state are participating in the governor’s pilot program to evaluate teachers; the School District of Philadelphia is not one of them.
Jordan has a number of other concerns about the governor’s program. He wants to know that his union members will have a clear understanding of who the evaluators will be and how they will be evaluated.
Also important to Jordan and the more than 15,000-member union is what the state’s role will be from a support standpoint if teachers are found to not be proficient.
As an example, Jordan pointed to Philadelphia’s Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) professional development program, established in the current collective bargaining agreement. The PAR program, heading into its second year, enlists expert teachers as a first-line support for struggling teachers.
“We are having success with the program,” Jordan said. “Again, no one disagrees with teachers being evaluated; teachers working with children should be good teachers. But there are some concerns that we feel have to be addressed to make the evaluations viable for us all. You can’t have a system that is set up as a sort of ‘gotcha’ program. There are a lot of issues that have to be addressed.”
Critics of the state’s new Voter ID law are getting louder and urging Philadelphians to get ready for the Nov. 6 presidential election now.
“This law … disenfranchises Philadelphians — so the way to defeat this law is to make sure that Philadelphia gets out and votes in every election,” said City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who is part of a growing effort to raise awareness about the law. “One of the reasons we have this law is that we’ve gotten out of the habit of voting. The more we vote, the more the governor, whoever the governor is, is going to respect us.”
Singer, who is part of a growing effort to raise awareness on the issue, is making two television appearances — one this week and one next week — to discuss the law, which new data shows hits Philadelphia harder than it does the rest of the state.
Data released last week estimated that 18 percent of Philadelphians — or 186,830 of the city’s registered voters — do not have a photo ID that meets the state’s requirement to cast a ballot in November.
The numbers, part of a report released by the Pennsylvania Department of State, found that about 758,000 voters across the state lacked the necessary ID. That translated to 9.2 percent of all registered voters.
“I can only speculate that it’s higher in Philadelphia because we have a decent public transportation system,” Singer said. “You don’t need a driver’s license to exist.”
The new figures reignited the debate that preceded the passage of the law in March.
With the law in place, Singer is urging voters to think ahead and get their IDs as soon as possible, noting that while November seems far away, it’s right around the corner.
The process to get the required documents varies but can be lengthy, she said. Getting the state ID, provided by PennDOT, requires a birth certificate — one directly from the state that includes a raised seal. The cost for that can vary depending on state of birth as can the length of time required to receive it. Some reports have estimated that it can take 13 weeks to receive a birth certificate. The election is 15 weeks away.
While Singer urged Philadelphians to make sure they have the ID needed to vote, others are urging Gov. Tom Corbett to delay implementation for a year.
“Every voter in Pennsylvania needs to know what the new law requires,” said Barry Kauffman, Executive Director of Common Cause PA, who is part of a coalition of advocates calling for a delay. “Four months until the presidential election in November is a very short time frame to reach what we now know are hundreds of thousands of voters who will actually need to get photo identification in order to vote.”
The law has been controversial from its inception, with critics arguing that it disenfranchises minority, older and younger voters. Singer said the specific demographics of who has proper identification would probably be released by the state with week.
Supporters said the law was needed to stop voter fraud.
Critics however, were given ammunition in their argument when state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai said the law will “allow” Mitt Romney to win the state in November, according to a report.
“(The) Voter ID … is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Turzai told a group of Republicans in late June.
Two law suits have been launched to block it — the first is scheduled to go to court on July 25.