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Shorter Standardized Tests Coming To PA Schools

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – The Wolf administration is making changes to standardized testing in Pennsylvania elementary schools. Governor Tom Wolf said Monday that the changes will mean students spending at least 20 percent less time on state exams.  Wolf said throughout his first term, he’s heard repeatedly from parents and teachers that federally-mandated state testing sucks up too much class time. So starting next spring, he said there will be a new test designed to combat that. “This change will allow students and teachers to focus their classroom time on getting the education they need, rather than preparing for one exam,” he said. The Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests will still meet state Education Department standards.

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The Remains Of Two Native American Boys Uncovered In PA

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – After a painstaking exhumation in Cumberland County, the remains of two Native American boys who died in the 1880s have been returned to their next-of kin in Wyoming.    But all did not go as planned.   Remains of a third boy were also supposed to make the journey back west, but couldn’t be uncovered due to a mismarked grave.   Little Chief, Horse, and Little Plume arrived together at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School aged fourteen, eleven, and nine. They were part of a nationwide program to forcibly assimilate Native American children.

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Three Boys Who Died At PA Indian School Will Soon Return Home

CARLISLE (WSKG) — A team of Army officials and anthropologists is working in Cumberland County to exhume the remains of three Native American boys from the Northern Arapaho Native American Tribe.  The boys died in the 1880s, at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School–part of a program that separated native children from their families to forcibly assimilate them into American culture. But they’ll soon be laid to rest back at home–for good. The school in Carlisle has long been closed. Its former campus is now home to the US Army War College, but its cemetery–the final resting place of Native American children who died there–remains. This week, it’s closed to the public and surrounded by tall, black fencing.

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PA Lawmakers Advocate For Flexibility In Public School Funding

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – A group of state lawmakers are introducing a bill they say would give students in Pennsylvania’s lowest-performing schools more options for their education.  The plan would create school savings accounts, which would allow parents to take control of the money that would be spent on their kids in the public school system, and enable them to use it for alternative education options. Republican Senator John DiSanto of Dauphin County described the savings accounts as being about giving kids and their parents more agency. “This is not a panacea…there are real nationwide problems that we need to address,” he noted, when asked about fixing entrenched funding inadequacies in Pennsylvania’s public school system. “But this is a small tool in Pennsylvania [where] we can really have an impact.” The accounts would be available to students at the bottom 15 percent of the commonwealth’s schools.  According to the Department of Education’s assessment, almost 400 schools qualify.

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Some PA Communities Lose Casino Fees Over Legislative inaction

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – As lawmakers try to negotiate a budget that’ll pass the House, Senate, and Governor, plus fill a $2 billion funding gap, they’re also grappling with another issue.  Nearly a year ago, the State Supreme Court declared that a law governing how casinos pay fees to their host municipalities was unconstitutional, and gave lawmakers an ultimatum: fix the law, or it’ll be invalidated.   Today, it’s still not fixed. And that’s losing some towns money. For years, casinos were required to pay their host municipalities whichever was greater–two percent of their slot machine revenue, or $10 million.

PA’s State Pension Fund Releases 2016 Financial Report

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – One of the state’s two largest pension funds has released its financial report for 2016. The State Employees Retirement System–or SERS–continued a longstanding pattern last year of coming up short of projected long-term earnings.  It brought in $1.6 billion dollars in 2016. That constitutes a 6.5 percent return, and spokeswoman Pamela Hile said that “when talking about an underfunded pension system, that is very good news.” But it’s still less than the rate of return SERS assumes for its investments–7.25 percent. It’s important to meet that number on average, because otherwise, liabilities can’t be correctly calculated, which can allow chronic under-funding.

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PA Treasury Says State Funds Would Hit Zero This Month Without Credit

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — State Treasurer Joe Torsella has extended a temporary, $750 million line of credit to keep Pennsylvania’s general fund balance from running dry this month. He’s calling the situation “extraordinary and without precedent.”   That doesn’t quite square with the way Governor Tom Wolf has appeared to downplay the impact of the state budget still being unbalanced, over a month into the fiscal year. Wolf has repeatedly pushed for the general assembly to close the budget’s $2 billion funding gap, and has emphasized it needs to happen soon to avoid a downgrade by credit rating agencies. But when asked if the state is in imminent fiscal danger, he takes a more positive stance.

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PA Earned Mixed Scores In Cancer Treatment Study

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – A study released by the American Cancer Society has given Pennsylvania mixed reviews for its work to prevent and treat cancer. The state earned particularly low marks on funding anti-tobacco programs–an issue that has lately gotten tied up in ongoing debate on how to fund the state budget.  Credit National Cancer Institute The study ranked states’ performance in three categories: smoking, overall cancer prevention, and access to care. Diane Phillips, a Pennsylvania-based ACS director, said the commonwealth struggled in the tobacco category in particular. For one, many bars and casinos in the commonwealth are still exempt from smoke-free laws. Plus, Pennsylvania is only funding tobacco use prevention programs at 10 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control recommend.

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PA Governor Confident Despite Stalled Budget; House Position Hazy

HARRISBURG (WSKG) — A month past the due date, negotiations on how to fund Pennsylvania’s $32 billion spending plan are effectively stalled.  With the state House in indefinite recess as lawmakers consider how to respond to a revenue proposal from the Senate, Governor Tom Wolf is seeking to allay fears about what an unbalanced budget means for the commonwealth. He noted, the state continues to take in revenue and do business, even as financial analysts–like the state treasurer–warn that the commonwealth faces cash shortfalls and a credit downgrade if it doesn’t get its fiscal act together. Wolf said he supports the Senate’s budget proposal, which includes a severance tax on Marcellus Shale natural gas drillers–one of the governor’s longtime priorities. And when it comes to getting the House on board, he’s optimistic “I believe that the House will support the Marcellus Shale taxes,” he said. “Most of the actors here have bought in to the bill that came out of the Senate.

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Protesters Urge PA Reps To Oppose Immigration Crackdown

HARRISBURG (WSKG) – Protesters around Pennsylvania spent Wednesday urging the commonwealth’s Republican US senators and congressional representatives not to support a budget bill that routes significant dollars toward enforcing immigration laws–including $1.6 billion to build a wall on the Mexican border.   One group braved torrential rain to bring the message to Congressman Lou Barletta’s office in Harrisburg–and they even brought props. After waiting out a downpour, a handful of constituents, local organizers, and members of pro-immigration reform group CASA filed into the conservative Barletta’s quiet office. They carried with them a box of shoes, which CASA regional director Elizabeth Alex said is a significant gesture. “These shoes are representing the empty shoes that are left behind when a family member is detained or deported by ICE,” she explained.