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.
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.