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.

PA Capital Murder Study Ties Case Trajectory To Defendant Income

Oct 27, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

A new report on death penalty cases in Pennsylvania shows a strong tie between how a case proceeds through the justice system and who a defendant relies on for legal counsel.

Public defenders’ and court-appointed attorneys’ clients were more likely to be convicted in the hundreds of death penalty cases that comprised the study’s sample, compared to those who were able to afford their own private defense.

Gov. Tom Wolf / Flickr

The Pennsylvania Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would alter a wide range of state policies related to public education — including the weakening of seniority protections for teachers.

The chamber agreed to the omnibus school code bill, as passed last week by the House of Representatives, by a vote of 35 to 15.  Now it will go before Gov. Tom Wolf, who says he has “serious concerns” about some of its provisions.

Haven Daley / AP

The implementation of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania was the focus of a session Tuesday during the annual conference of the Pennsylvania chapter of the American Planning Association.

The meeting raised more questions than answers regarding the commonwealth’s recent legalization of medical pot.

Questions included:

Who reviews the medical marijuana applications?

What will happen to growers who aren’t up and running in six months?

Will businesses be able to get financial backing from banks?

Voter Advocates Urge PA Senate Leader To Reform Redistricting Process

Oct 20, 2017
Min Xian / WPSU

Fair Districts PA delivered postcards collected from constituents to State Senator Jake Corman’s office in Bellefonte on Thursday, urging the Republican majority leader to to pass legislation to reform the redistricting process in Pennsylvania.

About 25 members and supporters of Fair Districts PA gathered in the parking lot outside Corman’s office with over 500 postcards stapled onto a giant board.

“The districting process in Pennsylvania is rigged and we need to stop that,” said Toby Short, a volunteer for the advocacy group.

Off-Year Election, Political Frustrations Contribute To Dip In PA Voter Registration

Oct 20, 2017
Matt Rourke / AP

Less than three weeks until Election Day, voter registration is down by about 2.5 percent in Pennsylvania compared with 2016.

Both major political parties — Democrats and Republicans — have lost members across the commonwealth.

Terry Madonna, director at the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said a drop in voter registration after the 2016 presidential election follows a typical pattern.

Susan Walsh / AP

After a damaging report on the opioid crisis from “60 Minutes” and The Washington Post, Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino withdrew his name this week as the next possible drug czar under the Trump Administration.

Whistleblowers and former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration employees say Marino, a Republican from Lycoming County, lead the way to pass a bill that essentially handcuffed them from doing their job.

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.

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