Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival?

Keystone Crossroads: Rust or Revival? explores the urgent challenges pressing upon Pennsylvania's cities. Four public media newsrooms are collaborating to report in depth on the root causes of our state's urban crisis -- and on possible solutions. Keystone Crossroads offers reports on radio, web, social media, television and newspapers, and through public events.

Our partner stations are WHYY in Philadelphia, WPSU in State College and witf in Harrisburg. Read all of the partner stories here.

Pittsburgh’s WQED joins the collaboration as an associate partner. 

Support for this project comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

In any contentious debate, getting two sides to agree to the same set of facts can be an elusive, frustrating endeavor.

New Report On PA Charter School Growth Finds ‘Stranded Costs’ Linger 5 Years Later

Sep 14, 2017
Emma Lee / WHYY, file

A new study finds that expanding the charter school sector in Pennsylvania creates a significant toll on traditional public school systems, which, based on an array of fixed costs, can't downsize at the same rate that students leave.

Municipal Distress Getting Worse In Pennsylvania, According To New Data

Sep 13, 2017
Pennsylvania Economy League

The Pennsylvania Economy League released a report on Tuesday showing predictions in its last study have borne out.

That's not a good thing.

The league warned in 2007 that the struggles of distressed communities would worsen where they already existed and emerge anew elsewhere — unless local government codes were updated by state lawmakers.

Heatray / Bigstock

What's the point of public school? To foster academic and critical thinking skills? To prepare students for the workforce?

A long-running national poll says a large majority of Americans are willing to sacrifice the former for the latter.

New Report Recommends Ways To Prevent And Respond To Childhood Lead Exposure

Sep 5, 2017
Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

The water and lead crisis in Flint Michigan and parts of Pennsylvania has shone a national spotlight on he problem of childhood lead exposure.

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

Nearly two months after the state's budget deadline, lawmakers still haven't reached a consensus on how to pay for the spending plan they authorized in June.

PA Court To Mull Hearing Partisan Gerrymandering Suit Similar To Case Before SCOTUS

Sep 1, 2017
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Tom Rentschler, an attorney and former high school teacher, has lived in Berks County for most of his life. He remembers as a young adult going to the grocery store and bumping into his local congressman.

But Rentschler, 53, says over time he and other voters in Berks County have lost their voice.

"I just don't think we have anyone speaking for our county," he says.

After Marrying U.S. Citizens, Undocumented Immigrants Attract ICE Scrutiny

Aug 22, 2017
Laura Benshoff / WHYY

Marriage tests couples in any number of ways.

Lillie Williams and Jonatan Palacios, both 27, have just spent about an hour being quizzed — literally — on their relationship.

Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

A powerful coalition of Pennsylvania lawmakers is promoting a forthcoming education savings account (ESA) bill that would allow hundreds of thousands of students in the state to use public money to pay for private school tuition.

The proposal could dramatically alter the state's K-12 education landscape, potentially siphoning away about a fifth of the state's overall support for public schools.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Ruling Helps School Districts Limit Charter Expansion

Aug 10, 2017
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a ruling this week that gives traditional public school districts more power to limit charter school growth.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Johnstown City Council was supposed to vote Wednesday to adopt an amended recovery plan in order to stay in Act 47, Pennsylvania’s assistance program for financially distressed communities. The vote was tabled.

This month marks Johnstown’s 25th year in the program; the city wouldn’t be able to cover its expenses without the tools the program provides, such as being able to restructure debt and collect a higher local services tax. So why the hold-up?

PA's New School Accountability System Puts Less Emphasis On Standardized Testing

Aug 7, 2017
Brad Larrison / NewsWorks

The Pennsylvania Department of Education will unveil a new school quality metric in 2018 — dubbed the Future Ready PA Index — that it believes will foster a more holistic student experience, one less narrowly focused on state standardized tests.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft began operating in Pennsylvania cities in 2014, but have had divergent effects on public transit agencies in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Players arrived at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe this week for the start of Steelers training camp, but running back Le'Veon Bell did not. He's in the middle of negotiating a franchise contract with the team, but is feeling pressure from his teammates.

Kevin McCorry / WHYY

A telecom technician by trade, Schuylkill County homeowner Ron Boltz is not your typical suit-and-tie Harrisburg lobbyist.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

At either end of Lavarna Way, in Pittsburgh, stood well-used orange signs: ROAD CLOSED.

The street was empty, except for an excavator, and a Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority crew dressed in neon yellow suits.

Convenience Store Wars: The Economic Impact And Fandom Of PA's Sheetz And Wawa

May 30, 2017
m01229 / Flickr

There are millions of Americans out there who don't have much of an opinion about their local convenience store brand. They'll stop at a 7-Eleven for a snack, a Shell station for gas and any old truck stop to use the bathroom. They're not likely to describe their relationship with a convenience store as "love."

AP

Harrisburg lawmakers accepted over $145 thousand in hospitality, gifts, and other travel in 2016, according to recently-filed financial interest disclosure forms.

The commonwealth has one of the loosest laws for reporting those gifts in the country.

The filings are coming as advocates across the state make a renewed push to get lawmakers to impose regulations on the amount of money they can take.

Republican Representative Rick Saccone, of Allegheny County, said regulations governing what needs to be reported--like dinners--are also loose.

Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

Cobblestone, brick, asphalt: the commonwealth has an abundance of street-paving options. But there’s one we don’t talk about a lot: wooden blocks. Both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are each home to one of the last wooden streets in the nation.

Proposal To Expand Passenger Rail West To Harrisburg Gains Momentum

May 29, 2017
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

The eastern half of the state has 13 daily trains running between Harrisburg and Philadelphia and back. But once you get west of Harrisburg, things get a little trickier. There's only one round-trip train a day between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh.

How Pennsylvania City Mayors Fared In The Primaries

May 17, 2017
Emily Previti / Keystone Crossroads

Lancaster Councilwoman Danene Sorace won the city's Democratic nomination for mayor Tuesday, and will face Republican Cindy Stewart in the fall.

Urban areas tend to lean left. But the mayor's office in Lancaster has changed parties multiple times over the years.

So Sorace and her supporters say they have a legitimate contest ahead, despite an increase in Democratic voters and major improvements in Lancaster since outgoing Mayor Rick Gray took office. This also was Lancaster's first contested mayoral primary in at least 30 years and turnout was high.

Embattled Allentown Mayor Seeks Re-Election Despite Federal Probe

May 15, 2017
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

Providence, Rhode Island had Buddy Cianci. Bridgeport, Connecticut had Joe Ganim. Washington, D.C. had Marion Barry.

Will Allentown mayor Ed Pawlowski join the list of mayors re-elected despite federal corruption charges?

Behind The Headlines: Pennsylvania's Opioid Crisis Up-Close

May 10, 2017
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

To be addicted

With an increasing number of opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania, attention from state and local officials is growing as well as public attention around the issue. In 2015, there were more than 3,500 drug related overdose deaths in the state, which marked a sharp increase from the previous year. In Philadelphia, 900 people died as a result of overdoses, which is three times the number of homicide victims.

You don’t wake up and say, ‘I want to be a heroin addict.’ 

Some Of PA's Wealthiest Communities Get State Police Coverage At No Cost

May 9, 2017
Gene Puskar / AP

About half of communities home to 21 percent of the state’s residents don’t have their own police force, instead relying on state troopers.

The Many Ways To Find 90.5 WESA Journalism

May 4, 2017
Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

You know you can listen to WESA’s local reporting and NPR’s national coverage on the radio at 90.5 FM. But there are also many places to find our journalism in the digital world—you can livestream us when you’re away from the radio, follow our reporters on social media and dig into NPR’s smartphone apps.

Matt Rourke / AP

The demand for new apartments in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh has grown swiftly over the last few years. Developers have met that demand with a tremendous amount of construction, said Barbara Byrne Denham, senior economist at Reis, a real estate data and analytics company based in New York. 

Johnstown Area Third Fastest Shrinking City In The US

Apr 12, 2017
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

Johnstown has taken the bronze medal in a race no one wants to win  — the country's fastest shrinking cities. The Johnstown metro region, which includes all of Cambria County, lost 5.5 percent of its population since 2011.

According to the research group 24/7 Wall Street, that's the third fastest rate of decline after Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and Farmington, New Mexico. 

Johnstown City Manager Arch Liston was surprised to hear that the city was so far down the list — but the numbers didn't shock him. 

ICE Corrects Record For Some Pennsylvania Jurisdictions

Apr 10, 2017
Charles Reed/US Immigration and Customs Enforcement / AP

Most Pennsylvania counties won't hold jail inmates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement without a warrant.

They basically can't due to the liability potential established by a 2014 federal court decision.

Reasons aside, any law enforcement agency that declines a detainer request is now being called out in weekly reports as per President Donald Trump's executive order.

Maryland To Pennsylvania (And 4 Other States): We'll Redistrict When You Do

Apr 4, 2017
Googlemaps

President Donald Trump, a Republican, won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin of 68,000 votes. The state has about 900,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. 

Street Sensors And Cameras In Pennsylvania: Urban Asset Or Privacy Concern?

Apr 4, 2017
Eleanor Klibanoff / Keystone Crossroads

Ever wonder about something you see or hear about where you live that you wish our reporters would explore? Here's your chance! You ask the questions, you vote on the questions you're most curious about, and we answer. Submit a question for us to investigate.

This round, Elliot Adler from Philadelphia asked about the cameras and sensors he's seen popping up more and more on roadways. He asked, "what are these sensors doing, how are they doing it, and what — if any — information are they storing?"

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