Thursday, May 5, 2016

PA Ed Policy Roundup May 5: Looking for revenue? Last year PA tax $ subsidized horse race purses to the tune of $198M

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Keystone State Education Coalition
PA Ed Policy Roundup May 5, 2016:
Looking for revenue? Last year PA tax $ subsidized horse race purses to the tune of $198M

See guest PA Sec of Education Pedro Rivera next Sunday May 8 at 3:00 pm on EPLC's "Focus on Education" on PCN

Blogger note: you can listen to yesterday’s Smart Talk discussion via a link on their website below.
Smart Talk: Campaigning for equitable education funding
Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | May 4, 2016 9:00 AM
Funding for education has been a contentious issue in Pennsylvania for many years.
School districts get a large portion of their funding from local property taxes.  The state provides money to schools at one of the lowest percentages in the country.  In the meantime, educators and advocates have been complaining for years about how inequitable school funding is in Pennsylvania.  Poorer school districts that don't have big property tax bases, or have a large segment of their students living in poverty or learning English have often said they're left behind.  A bipartisan commission has recommended a new funding formula to rectify the situation.  However, the formula didn't go into effect this school year.  A coalition of groups calling themselves the Campaign For Fair Education Funding rallied in Harrisburg this week to not only press for the new formula but also for more money for schools period.  We'll learn more on Wednesday's Smart Talk from our guests Joan Benso, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children, Jim Buckheit, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and Kevin McCorry, a reporter for the Keystone Crossroads team and Senior Education Writer at WHYY News in Philadelphia.

Rep. Saylor bill would require school board training
York Dispatch by Greg Gross, 505-5433/@ggrossyd11:51 p.m. EDT May 3, 2016
Saylor's bill would require new members to take 8 hours worth of training
Newly elected and appointed school board members may have to undergo state-mandated training in order to serve.  The bill, introduced by state Rep. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, that would require the training would also force re-elected school board members to complete continuing-education courses.  "I think it's important for anyone who takes office to know the laws," he said. "I think it's important to be educated."  But some members of York County school boards, which oversee multi-million dollar budgets, said members already voluntary take training courses and that the mandatory training isn't needed.

'In God We Trust' bill advances in Pennsylvania Legislature
Trib Live BY NATASHA LINDSTROM  | Tuesday, May 3, 2016, 11:25 p.m.
A battle is brewing over proposed legislation urging all Pennsylvania's public schools to display the national motto, “In God We Trust.”  On Tuesday, a bill dubbed the National Motto Display Act cleared the state House on a 179-20 bipartisan vote.  Proponents hail emblazoning the motto in school buildings statewide as a potential “unifying force” with moral and historical value, the phrase's roots dating to 2-cent coins printed at the height of the Civil War.  “Our country is very divided today, and celebrating the motto can help unite us,” said state Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, a longtime advocate for promoting public displays of the motto and its historical ties to Pennsylvania. “Whether you believe in God or not, it's here to inspire us.”  Opponents, including secular advocacy groups and some school solicitors, blast the attempt as an inappropriate — and potentially unconstitutional — overreach blending church and state.

“During floor debate, Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, sagely observed that, since the bill requires districts to do ... nothing ... it's "very Seinfeldesque." (Though that was no impediment to his voting in favor of it.)
But Vitali missed a key difference: Seinfeld was often funny.
There's nothing remotely amusing about a pointless piece of legislation that wastes both the General Assembly and taxpayers' time and resources.
There's a budget to finish and a pension system to fix.
Get to work, people.”
Senate should reject 'In God We Trust' bill: Editorial
By PennLive Editorial Board  Email the author  on May 04, 2016 at 10:27 AM
The last time the state House sent the Republican-controlled Senate a bill allowing school districts to post "In God We Trust" in their buildings, the chamber wisely allowed it to die on the vine.  Here's hoping history repeats itself.
With all the challenges facing Pennsylvania, not least of which is a permanent fix for a badly broken public employee pension system, the House still managed to find the time to vote 179-20 on Monday to approve this election year waste of the taxpayers' time.  As PennLive's Jan Murphy reports, like the bill passed in last year's legislative session, the proposal sponsored by Rep. Cris Dush, an Indiana County Republican, doesn't require the motto to be posted in buildings.  Rather, the bill is apparently intended to "expose students to the phrase that carries historical significance," even as it allays "concerns that some school officials had about whether it was permitted to post a slogan that has religious overtones in public school buildings," Murphy reported.  There is indeed a place for discussing the significance of the phrase, it's called History Class.

"Kenderton is facing significant financial challenges due to a number of factors including the school's rising special education costs. As a result, Scholar Academies has concluded that, next school year, it is no longer able to manage the school in the best interest of kids," said CEO Lars Beck in an emailed statement. 
Parents livid about charter company pulling out of North Philly school unexpectedly
At an emergency meeting, Scholar Academies informed parents Wednesday afternoon that it is planning to cease operations at Kenderton elementary at the end of the school year due to fiscal constraints.  The charter management organization had assumed control of the North Philadelphia school in 2013 through the renaissance process, signing a contract that lasts through 2018.   During a 90 minute meeting with CEO Lars Beck, parents were livid.  "We are so upset. We are angry that our kids are being taken through this process again," said parent Shereda Cromwell. "Scholar Academies made a promise to us and now is letting us down."  Cromwell, president of the school advisory council, was one of about ten parents at the meeting. She stormed out after 30 minutes, feeling furious and betrayed.  "They were full of excuses and lies," she said. "The children are going to be devastated. They went from losing all the teachers they loved in their public school, and now that they started forming bonds with the new teachers, they are now leaving too."  According to Cromwell, Beck told parents that the school would either return to district control or be transferred into the hands of another charter operator.
Scholar Academies is opening a new school in Memphis in 2016-17 as part of Tennessee's state-run "Achievement School District."  "How do you not have funding to run our school, and you can open a school in Tennessee?" fumed Cromwell, a mother of two Kenderton students with autistic-support needs.

“Those wondering why the state subsidizes the horse racing industry obviously didn't pay attention in their high school civics class. Much like maintaining infrastructure, affording citizens opportunities to have an entertaining night out at the track is a core government function.  Eighty percent of the fund goes to boost purse winnings. Last year, that amounted to a modest $196.8 million.
Consider the money a safety net for wealthy horse owners. If you don't think that net is needed, then shame on you and please recall the words of Pope John Paul II, who once famously said: “A society will be judged on the basis of how it treats its billionaire sheikhs.”  Besides, Pennsylvania clearly can afford to provide money to people who clearly don't need it.”
Pa. tax dollars go to worthy cause — cushioning a billionaire's wallet
Trib Live Opinion BY ERIC HEYL  | Sunday, May 1, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
While Pennsylvania's financial outlook remains bleak, money worries aren't plaguing a certain sheikh.  So of course the United Arab Emirates billionaire is benefiting from the Keystone State's largess.  Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is the UAE's vice president and prime minister. He also owns a global thoroughbred breeding and horse racing stable, apparently because even the ruler of Dubai needs a hobby, and stamp collecting is boring.  One of the sheikh's horses, Frosted, won the 2015 Pennsylvania Derby, an annual event at the Parx Casino and Racing complex in Bucks County. The race isn't as illustrious as the Kentucky Derby, but its $1 million purse probably soothed any irritation the sheikh felt over the absence of mint juleps.  Here's where Pennsylvania's largess comes into play: The winnings wouldn't have been nearly as significant if not for the state continuing to generously subsidize race purses with tax dollars.
Last year, $246 million in taxes on casino slot machines across the state went to the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Fund, according to a recent state Gaming Control Board report. The money was used significantly to enhance purses, provide health and pension benefits for horsemen and assist horse breeding operations.

More than 100 ‘walk in’ for fair school funding at Pottstown High School
By Evan Brandt, The Mercury POSTED: 05/04/16, 11:24 AM EDT
POTTSTOWN >> More than 100 students, teachers, parents and administrators gathered in front of Pottstown High School Wednesday morning to show support for fair school funding.
One of many rallies across the country coordinated by the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, the “walk-in” featured short speeches by two student members of the school board, the head of the teachers union and the district superintendent.  Elisabeth Yoder, president of the Federation of Pottstown Teachers, said public schools are a force for “racial and economic justice” and they are undermined by Pennsylvania’s school funding system, “which has the widest gap between adequately funded public schools and underfunded public schools in the United States.”

School funding advocate: Reading schools losing out
Reading Eagle By Dan Kelly  Thursday May 5, 2016 12:01 AM
The Reading School District is underfunded by the state Legislature to the tune of $95 million over the last 25 years, the most of any district in the state, an activist for fair school funding said Wednesday.  Seven other Berks County districts also are underfunded, though to a much lesser degree, according to Kelly Lewis, a former state legislator, business consultant and founder of Citizens for Fair School Funding. And the Pottstown School District is underfunded by $11.9 million over the same 25 years, he said.  Lewis was in Reading and Pottstown on Wednesday on the first leg of a monthlong tour of cities with underfunded school districts, including Harrisburg ($24 million), Stroudsburg, in Lewis' home county of Monroe ($6.6 million), Allentown ($66 million), Bethlehem ($21 million), State College ($11 million), Lancaster ($47 million), York ($46.5 million), Wilkes-Barre ($29 million) and Scranton ($20 million).  Beginning in 1991-92, Lewis said, student enrollment was removed from the funding equation for public schools. As a result, 10 of 18 districts that lost enrollment over the past two decades have seen their costs reduced but still have been receiving allocations as though their enrollments had never dropped.

More than 200 rally against proposed cuts at Baldwin-Whitehall
Trib Live BY STEPHANIE HACKE  | Wednesday, May 4, 2016, 11:20 p.m.
More than 200 teachers, custodians, kitchen staffers and bus cleaners rallied on the steps of the Baldwin-Whitehall School District administrative offices Wednesday to save their jobs and to get the teachers a new contract.  Following the hourlong rally, only 56 of the employees were allowed into board chambers for the start of the Baldwin-Whitehall School Board meeting. The overflow crowd was sent to the Whitehall Elementary School library, in a connected building.
A motion by board member Martin Michael Schmotzer to move the meeting to a larger room failed to get board support. Administrators said the school's cafeteria was not set up and would take 45 minutes to prepare.  Baldwin-Whitehall administrators in April proposed cutting 13 professional jobs and reducing 22 full-time operational positions to half time for 2016-17 to balance the district's $62.4 million budget. The proposed staffing cuts were based on program changes and fluctuating enrollment, administrators said.

ALEC summit convenes in Pittsburgh, bringing business, legislators together
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette May 5, 2016 12:00 AM
Depending on whom you ask, the American Legislative Exchange Council is either a Model United Nations or “a kind of dating service for corporations to hook up with legislators.”
It won’t be easy to tell who’s right. ALEC’s “Spring Task Force Summit,” to be held Friday at the Omni William Penn Hotel, will be closed to press and public. And although the organization touts steps toward increased transparency, as an educational nonprofit group, it does not disclose its roughly 300 corporate members or the names of most state legislators who belong.  ALEC bills itself as a forum where “job creators and state legislators alike … offer important policy perspectives.” Participants help shape model legislation for state governments on issues including reforming public pensions, scrapping union-backed “prevailing wage” laws and barring local ordinances that require restaurants to post nutrition information.  “Think of ALEC as a Model United Nations,” suggested Molly Drenkard, a spokeswoman for the four-decade-old Washington, D.C., organization.  But Erin Kramer, who heads the activist group One Pittsburgh and is the person who characterized the group as a “dating service” for legislators and businesses, said ALEC is nothing more than a conduit for corporations to get their messages to lawmakers.

“Despite widespread public opposition to the corporate-driven education privatization agenda, at least 172 measures reflecting American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bills were introduced in 42 states in 2015… ALEC’s education task force has pushed legislation for decades to privatize public schools, weaken teacher’s unions and lower teaching standards.  ALEC’s agenda would transform public education from a public and accountable institution that serves the public into one that serves private, for-profit interests.  ALEC model bills divert taxpayer money from public to private schools through a variety of ‘voucher’ and ‘tuition tax credit’ programs.  They promote unaccountable charter schools and shift power away from democratically elected local school boards.”
How ALEC is Destroying the Public Sector
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch March 22, 2016 //
Jan Resseger, who lives in Ohio, has written s useful summary of ALEC’s direction of state legislation to privatize schools and eliminate the teaching profession. She explains succinctly that ALEC is funded by the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, and other wealthy friends of privatization. Legislators introduce ALEC model laws in state after state.
ALEC is considered non-political by the IRS. Strange. It is a force for undermining democracy.

Wikipedia lists the following Pennsylvania legislators as members, with Rep. Ellis listed as PA State Chairperson:

Wikipedia: List of members of the American Legislative Exchange Council
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This is a list of current members. For former members, see List of former members of the American Legislative Exchange Council.
The American Legislative Exchange Council, otherwise known by the acronym ALEC, is a non-profit 501(c) political organization established in 1973 in Chicago.[1] The legislative members are state and federal legislators. It is a forum to allow the members to write model laws and discuss legislative language with other members. ALEC meetings are an opportunity for the corporate and non-profit leaders to meet and provide feedback to legislators. Member legislators can then use these model bills as templates for their own bills.  ALEC's vision statement is "A nonpartisan membership association for conservative state lawmakers who shared a common belief in limited government, free markets, federalism, and individual liberty. Their vision and initiative resulted in the creation of a voluntary membership association for people who believed that government closest to the people was fundamentally more effective, more just, and a better guarantor of freedom than the distant, bloated federal government in Washington, D.C."[2]
ALEC keeps its membership, activities and communications confidential.[3] This list includes members whose identity primarily has become known through internal documents revealed to Common Cause and by research by members of the press.

Blogger note: here’s a little more ALEC context…..

“Virtual schools are great at making money, but they can’t seem to educate kids. Everywhere they’ve been tried — Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas most notably — they’ve failed to meet minimum standards and done worse than the real-world public schools that most kids — mine included — attend, according to areport put out recently by Progress Texas called “Invisible Schools, Invisible Success: How ALEC Promotes Virtual School Profits Over State Standards & Student Success.”… When you look at ALEC’s Education Task Force, you begin to understand how this virtual corner of the public school system got privatized so quickly. Co-chairing the task force were executives for K12 Inc. and Connection Academy, two virtual school companies.”
How ALEC Gets Real Tax Dollars for Fake Schools
Huffington Post by Jason Stanford  05/29/2012 03:24 pm ET | Updated Aug 09, 2012
recent question on a standardized test in New York State seemed to set the bar for stupidity in education reform. Schoolchildren were asked to imagine a race between a talking pineapple and a rabbit and were asked why the spectators ate the pineapple and which animal was the wisest. The question was so indefensibly dumb that they agreed not to grade the answers, though not before a lot of confused complaints and embarrassed apologies.  But if think you the pineapple scandal is the dumbest thing going on in education these days, then you haven’t been to Texas recently. We take second place to no one when it comes to stupid. At a time when we fund public schools by looking under the state’s fiscal cushions for loose change, our politicians have figured out a way to send money we don’t have to not educate our children at schools that don’t exist. Top that, New York!  Like most bad ideas in American politics, this all started with the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. ALEC is like a dating service for corporate America where they set up Republican lawmakers with nice pro-business bills from good families and send them off to consummate their laws in legislatures all across the country. It’s not how Schoolhouse Rock told us how a bill becomes a law, but it happens all the time.

School counselors take on at-home trauma in the classroom
School counselor Pam Turner-Bunyon had been warned: This new, incoming student had a dark profile and was prone to very erratic behavior.  "When he first came to us, he ran out of the building, the first day — the very first day — instead of coming in, he ran," she said.
Turner-Bunyon learned what happened and immediately took off, dashing out into the crime-prone streets that surround the school.  "I found out he was running so I went and chased him down, and coaxed him back in and we worked to develop safety places in the building," she said.
Turner-Bunyon has 15 years under her belt as counselor at Feltonville Intermediate, a Philadelphia public school serving grades three, four and five. Most students come from low-income families.  Years ago, in the same situation, she would have reacted differently — maybe gotten angry and tried to lecture the student sternly about his misbehavior.
But that was before she learned about "trauma-informed" education care.

A Citizen co-sponsored survey finds most Philadelphians favor Mayor Kenney’s proposed soda tax on sugary beverages
Philadelphia Citizen BY ROXANNE PATEL SHEPELAVY MAY. 05, 2016
A few weeks ago, we launched a survey to find out what Philadelphians really think—outside of the politics, the headache-inducing ads, the petitions, the posters—of Mayor Kenney’s proposed tax on sugary beverages. And almost 1,000 people responded—which in the world of surveys is as if citizens were coming out to vote in droves. (We can only dream.)  The results: 58.7 percent of Philadelphians support a tax on sugary beverages to help pay for universal pre-K, community schools and park renovations, among other things. Nearly 31 percent oppose it. If the tax passes, almost 35 percent said it would have a positive effect on their lives; 13 percent said it would have a negative effect. And more than half think it will have no effect on their lives at all—many because they simply don’t drink enough sweetened beverages to feel much impact on their wallets.

Joseph Batory: Time to Abolish State Control of Philadelphia’s Schools
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch May 4, 2016 //
Joseph Batory, former superintendent of public schools in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, says it is time to abolish the School Reform Commission that has governed Philadelphia’s public schools since 2001. It has presided over the destruction of public education. Having failed, it is time to replace it with an elected board. At least, it will be accountable to the public. It can’t be worse than the SRC!  Batory writes: “It is clearly time for Philadelphia to rid itself of the State-imposed School Reform Commission (SRC) overseeing the city’s public schools. This politically appointed board, with three members appointed by the Governor and two by the Mayor, has been a colossal failure. The SRC has presided over an educational disaster in Philadelphia.

Mercedes Schneider Does Not Feel Grateful to the 1% for Funding Charter Schools
Diane Ravitch’s Blog By dianeravitch May 4, 2016 //
Over the weekend, Nina Rees, CEO of the Natuonal Alliance for Public Charter Schools, expressed her gratitude to the billionaires who fund charter schools and wondered why anyone could question their kindness and generosity.  Mercedes Schneider explains to Nina Rees why she feels no gratitude to the billionaires. They are harming public education and hurting millions of children, whose public schools are losing resources and programs and teachers as the billionaires build their charter empire to compete with underfunded public schools.

The Blurred Lines of Gerrymandering
Authors: Catherine GreenGreyson Korhonen Video by The Atlantic May 03, 2016 | 9 videos 
Could gerrymandering change the course of the 2016 election? And what even qualifies as gerrymandering? What looks like simple redistricting to one person might seem like an outrageous distortion to another, and what looks like an unfair bending of lines could be an earnest attempt to conform to the Voting Rights Act. The Atlantic’s Caty Green sat down with staff writer David Graham to talk about the ins and outs of moving congressional districts in and out.
We’ve been answering reader-submitted questions as part of our ongoing election coverage, 2016 Distilled. What do you wish you knew more about when it comes to the 2016 election? To share your questions,

Public Education Must Be Our New Frontier
Huffington Post by Thomas J. Gentzel Executive Director of the National School Boards Association (NSBA)  05/04/2016 03:37 pm ET
Of all the impassioned debate we’ve witnessed in this presidential campaign, there has been remarkably little said about a policy issue critical to America’s future: public education. When the candidates have talked about education, they have primarily focused on higher education, which is provided through colleges and universities. Our presidential candidates have largely been silent about their views on and plans to enhance K-12 public education. This is worrisome. Does the lack of focus suggest the candidates don’t consider K-12 education as important as addressing terrorism, immigration, the economy? Do they fail to recognize that our schools play a powerful role in overcoming these and other challenges facing our nation?  Too much of the public discourse has focused on the negative, encouraging division and animosity rather than engendering a spirited but positive dialog about the way forward for our country.
Recently, I was in Boston with more than 6,000 school board members from every state in the country and they shared my desire to hear the candidates talk about K-12 public education. School board members told me that people in their communities share the same interest. That doesn’t surprise me. People across the country realize that public education is critically important. It always has been and always will be.

NSBA Information: Updated ESSA FAQs 5/4/2016
Today, the U.S. Department of Education posted online an updated set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The Department prepared these FAQs to support states and school districts in understanding expectations during the transition to full implementation of the ESSA.  The Department of Education will continue to update and add to the document as there are still unanswered questions.  Please check regularly for updates.  NSBA will review and keep you posted on further developments as the process moves forward.
If you are interested in commenting on this guidance, or if you have further questions that are not answered here, please send a message to with the subject line “ESSA transition question.”  Additionally, you may also contact Kathleen Branch ( at NSBA for further information

Join the Pennsylvania Principals Association at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21, 2016, at The Capitol in Harrisburg, PA, for its second annual Principals' Lobby Day.
Pennsylvania Principals Association Monday, March 21, 2016 9:31 AM
 To register, contact Dr. Joseph Clapper at by Tuesday, June 14, 2016. If you need assistance, we will provide information about how to contact your legislators to schedule meetings.  Click here for the informational flyer, which includes important issues to discuss with your legislators.

2016 PA Educational Leadership Summit July 24-26 State College
Summit Sponsors: PA Principals Association - PA Association of School Administrators - PA Association of Middle Level Educators - PA Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development 
The 2016 Educational Leadership Summit, co-sponsored by four leading Pennsylvania education associations, provides an excellent opportunity for school district administrative teams and instructional leaders to learn, share and plan together at a quality venue in "Happy Valley." 
Featuring Grant Lichtman, author of EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera (invited), and Dana Lightman, author of POWER Optimism: Enjoy the Life You Have... Create the Success You Want, keynote speakers, high quality breakout sessions, table talks on hot topics and district team planning and job alike sessions provides practical ideas that can be immediately reviewed and discussed at the summit before returning back to your district.   Register and pay by April 30, 2016 for the discounted "early bird" registration rate:

When: September 9, 2016, 10:00 am PST/1:00pm EST
Where: Schools across America
Sponsor: American Public Education Foundation (APEF)
The National Anthem “Sing-A-Long” is a movement to teach K-12 students the words, meaning,
music and history of the Star-Spangled Banner. This annual event is held each year on the
second week of September to honor 9/11 families, victims and heroes and celebrate the historic
birthday of the National Anthem on September 14. Those who join the “Sing-A-Long” are singing in unison at the exact same time at multiple sites across the U.S. The APEF has also created a robust, companion curriculum recognized by numerous State Departments of Education, available online at (see the “Educate” tab) for free download.
The Foundation hopes to have the support of the Alabama Department of Education as we
commemorate the 15th Anniversary of 9/11 this year. Teachers are encouraged to sign up
before the end of the school year at Also online is a "how-to" guide on
holding an event at your school and sample press release. If you do not wish to hold a full
ceremony at the school, your students can simply stand up and sing at 10 am PST/1:00pm EST.
The Star-Spangled Banner Movement is a simple, elegant way to honor 9/11 while also teaching students how the world came together in the days, weeks and months after the September 2001 terrorist strikes. The APEF also offers a host of other free educational material on its website, including polls, contests and grant information.

Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC), a statewide children's advocacy organization located in Harrisburg, PA has an immediate full-time opening for an Early Learning and K-12 Education Policy Manager.  PPC's vision is to be one of the top ten states in which to be a child and raise a child. Today, Pennsylvania ranks 17th in the nation for child well-being. Our early learning and K-12 education policy work is focused on ensuring all children enter school ready to learn and that all children have access to high-quality public education. Current initiatives include increasing the number of children served in publicly funded pre-k and implementing a fair basic education formula along with sustained, significant investments in education funding.

Interested in letting our elected leadership know your thoughts on education funding, a severance tax, property taxes and the budget?
Governor Tom Wolf, (717) 787-2500

Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Turzai, (717) 772-9943
House Majority Leader Rep. Dave Reed, (717) 705-7173
Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. Joe Scarnati, (717) 787-7084
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Jake Corman, (717) 787-1377

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