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Regional Approach is Needed on Schools and Health

Further thoughts on the State of the Lehigh Valley report

Editor's note: This is the second part of Jon Geeting's take on the State of the Lehigh Valley from last week. You can read .

One area that is ripe for revenue-sharing and regional collaboration is education.

The report shows poverty is highest in the cities, with 75% of students in Allentown eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, along with 51% in Bethlehem. Poverty rose across all areas, and it actually rose more in the suburbs, showing that the suburbs can't run away from urban poverty.

Unsurprisingly, people from families making less than $60,000 were more likely to give public schools bad ratings. Since school funding comes from local property taxes, areas where property values are lower are going to have worse schools.

In my view, this problem should be solved at the state level by replacing local property taxes with state funding as the primary source of school revenue. But at the local level, creating a regional school district would be a step toward greater equity. It seems perverse that how much a child's parents earn would determine how good a public school that person is able to attend. After all, you can't choose your parents.

Clearly there would be strong disagreements over whether or not equitable funding is politically desirable, but it's worth noting that plenty of other states have county-wide school districts, so the administrative challenges are quite surmountable.

Public Health

The report also shows that Lehigh Valley air quality has gotten better by some measures, but the concentration of a particulate known to correlate with asthma is disturbingly high. Notably, the Lehigh Valley has high rates of asthma. If residents want to bring that down, they will need to elect politicians who are interested in tougher environmental regulations.

Public health is also a major concern. Dr. Bonnie Coyle*, one of the panelists at the State of the Lehigh Valley report release event, said that the Lehigh Valley's health infrastructure does a good job at making sick people healthy, but does a bad job at keeping healthy people healthy.

Preventive public health is sorely lacking. Opinions on the quality of care are stratified by race and income. 36% of non-whites say their health care is "not so good", as do 23% of people making between $20,000 and $40,000. These are the people who most need a to provide public health services.

The politics of this issue are clear-cut. If voters want to see public health improve, they will need to replace politicians who do not support a bi-county health department with politicians who do.

The trend is clear: making progress on the region's problems and the issues that voters say are important to them will require less parochialism and more collaboration across a number of fronts.

Voters will do well to quiz the candidates on whether they are interested in strengthening the whole Valley, or if they will practice the same provincial politics that is undermining the region's recovery.

*The original version of this story attributed this info to Bonnie Lynch, who was also present at the conference.

another point of view January 19, 2011 at 09:25 PM
A state mandated consolidation of school districts should consider the disadvantages of such a move. Consolidation should be left to local districts who can best examine benefits( or lack of) for their local communities. Pennsylvania should continue to encourage cost savings among districts through the Intermediate Units. Statewide consolidation policies have been shown to have negative effects on student achievement, student transportation time, and small rural communities . Additionally, research on statewide consolidation policies illustrates that states with enacted consolidation policies have not seen their projected savings . Assumptions do not prove that the proposed policy to consolidate the state’s 500 student-serving districts to 100 appears to be a cost saving measure. There are no administrative personnel savings. Savings occur when smaller school are extinguished in favor of larger schools. We should recognize that such moves have destroyed city neighborhoods and small communities. The suggested routing of tax money sounds good but realistically economic demographics will dictate differing levels of state support and never achieve equality for all students throughout the state. In simpler terms the cost of living in Philadelphia exceed those costs in Potter County.

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