News & Brews July 8, 2021

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Final university merger plan raises questions

The State System of Higher Education released the final version of its plan to merge six state universities into two new entities. While the plan promises not to close any of the campuses, it reportedly raises questions of whether the schools can keep their current sports teams and how the new entities will be accredited. A final vote on the plan is expected next week.

Judge hears pre-trial motions in major school funding case

In a case that’s been seven years in the making, a Commonwealth Court judge yesterday heard pre-trial motions in William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education. The plaintiff contends our state’s system of education funding violates our constitution. The Commonwealth Court previously dismissed the case because educational funding is not within judicial purview. But in 2017, the Democrat majority on our state Supreme Court reinstated the case and sent it back to trial court. This case could mean the judicial branch would dictate and define sufficient educational funding in violation of our separation of powers. Meanwhile, Commonwealth Foundation Vice President Nathan Benefield noted, “At the end of the day, I think the outcome that I’d like to see is legislative changes that allow money to follow the child and go with the child to whatever school they choose and whatever is best for their needs.” The trial is set to begin on September 9.

Butler v. Wolf: The latest

In advance of oral argument scheduled for July 22, Butler County and the Wolf administration have been going back and forth arguing that the case challenging Gov. Wolf’s business shutdown orders and capacity limits is either moot (Wolf’s claim) or not moot (Butler County’s argument). Wolf claims (also here) that since the Legislature recently terminated his emergency disaster declaration, the case should be dismissed. Butler County, meanwhile, points out that Wolf has held that even with the end of his disaster declaration, the Secretary of Health can continue to issue shutdown orders. Yesterday, the court instructed both sides to submit briefs by July 14 addressing: “Whether the Secretary of Health possesses the authority to enter the type of order at issue in this case?” And, “If so, would such authority be dependent upon other factors, such as the Governor’s concurrence or the declaration of a state of emergency?”

GOP senator initiates election audit plan

The AP reports that Sen. Doug Mastriano (Adams, Cumberland, Franklin, and York counties) has launched an investigation of our 2020 presidential election, sending letters to several counties requesting information. Senate Democrats have decried the effort, while top Senate Republican leaders have not commented on it.

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