Performance of cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania


What to look for on Smart Talk, Friday, July 12, 2019:

More than 33,000 Pennsylvania students attend cyber charter schools. These online education programs are public schools and receive $463 million in state funding each year, money that comes from the budgets of the public school districts in which the cyber charter students reside.

In addition, cyber charter schools tend to have poorer educational outcomes than their public school counterparts, research from both the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University shows. A comprehensive assessment on charter school performance in Pennsylvania released earlier this year found that students in cyber charter schools lag “dramatically” behind their peers in both traditional public schools and in brick-and-mortar charter schools when it comes to performance in reading and math.

Supporters of cyber charter schools counter, however, that they educate students who enter their programs already well behind and that they keep students who would otherwise drop out altogether in the public school system. And some school districts have developed their own online education options.

Joining Smart Talk to discuss the challenges and performance of cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania are Susan Spicka, President of the Education Voters of Pennsylvania, and Ana Meyers, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools.

Overcoming addiction in PA / Involuntary commitment


What to look for on Smart Talk, Thursday, July 11, 2019:

Drug addiction affects thousands of Pennsylvanians every year. Emergency rooms across the state saw 13,499 opioid overdose-related visits in less than two years, from Jan. 1, 2018 to June 8, 2019.

The Get Help Now hotline, which connects people experiencing addiction with treatment services, received 23,707 calls from Pennsylvanians during the same period. If you or someone you know is experiencing addiction, you can call the Get Help Now hotline at 1-800-662-HELP.

The death toll of drug overdoses remains high, even with opioid prescribers erring on the side of caution. There has been a 30% decrease in opioid prescriptions written per capita nationwide since 2012.

A local initiative is working to provide hope to people in recovery from addiction. Lancaster County Recovery Alliance aims to shift the conversation from the doom and disaster of opioid addiction to the possibility of recovery.

Members of the alliance include people in recovery, friends and family of those in recovery, service providers, legal/law enforcement, church/faith-based organizations, corrections, the business community and other allies.

Joining Smart Talk to discuss local resources for people in recovery are Brett Hambright, spokesperson for the Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office, Scott Theurer, a recovery specialist at the Opioid Center of Excellence at T.W. Ponessa & Associates Counseling Services in Lancaster who is in long-term recovery from addiction, James Severson, recovery specialist supervisor at Gate House Behavioral Health Services and vice chairman of the Lancaster County Recovery House Coalition, and Rachel Skinner, a recovery specialist in recovery herself and author of There is Hope.


(Left to right) Scott Theurer, Brett Hambright, James Severson, Rachel Skinner

Also, Transforming Health reporter Brett Sholtis joins Smart Talk. Sholtis has been traveling the state covering involuntary commitment, the legal process that can require individuals with severe mental disorders to undergo treatment. Join our discussion to hear about involuntary commitment policy in Pennsylvania.

For more on drug recovery and involuntary commitment — plus a deeper look at the changing tide of healthcare — check out WITF’s Transforming Health. Online at Transforming A partnership of WITF, WellSpan Health and Capital Blue Cross.

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Brett Sholtis

Walking the fine line between poverty and financial hardship

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What to look for on Smart Talk, Wednesday, July 10, 2019:

Many households struggle with finances but don’t qualify for public assistance. These families walk a financial tightrope and are one emergency away from poverty or severe hardship.

The United Way of Pennsylvania uses the ALICE report to gauge financial hardship. ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed. People who fall into the ALICE category are earning money above the federal poverty level, but don’t make enough to pay for essentials like housing, food, childcare, transportation, or future savings. ALICE households across Pennsylvania struggle to find affordable housing and community resources in the same county where they work.

The United Way of Pennsylvania brought the ALICE report to the state. Local groups like the United Way of the Capital Region are using ALICE data to launch community programs to support ALICE households in Cumberland, Dauphin and Perry Counties.

When combined with households below the poverty level, in total, 1,856,785 households in Pennsylvania ⁠– 37% ⁠– struggled to meet their basic needs in 2017.

Small business owners and workers often fall into the ALICE category because small businesses are more vulnerable to changes in demand, price of materials, transportation costs, cyberattacks and natural disasters.

Joining us on Wednesday’s Smart Talk to discuss the ALICE report and helping Pennsylvanians living in the financial margins are Kristin Rotz, president of United Way of Pennsylvania, Tim Fatzinger, president of United Way of the Capital Region, and Gene Barr, CEO of the PA Chamber of Business and Industry.

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(Front to back) Kristin Rotz, Tim Fatzinger and Gene Barr

Astronaut Scott Altman/Novelist Catherine Chung

What to look for on Smart Talk, Tuesday, July 9, 2019:

WITF’s “Summer of Space” commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and man’s first steps on the moon in July, 1969. There are many programs on WITF, 89.5 FM and WITF-TV devoted to the historic event and the nation’s space program.

With that in mind, when an astronaut comes to town, Smart Talk wants to have a conversation with him.

Astronaut Scott Altman will be in Harrisburg Wednesday night (Paxtang Municipal Building, 3423 Derry Street from 6-7:30 p.m. Sponsored by Friends of Kline Library and Dauphin County Library Association) to discuss his four space shuttle flights, the space program, the significance of the Apollo 11 mission and even his role in one of the iconic scenes in the film Top Gun.

The former U.S. Navy Captain, test pilot, engineer and astronaut appears on Tuesday’s Smart Talk.

Also, there is a lot happening at WITF this summer in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Join WITF and Messiah Lifeways for a FREE sneak preview of the film 8 DAYS: TO THE MOON AND BACK and participate in a community conversation about it on Tuesday, July 9 at 6 p.m. at Hostetter Enrichment Center located on the campus of Messiah Lifeways in Mechanicsburg. The event is moderated by retired WITF Senior Vice President and current Senior Advisor Mike Greenwald, who witnessed and reported the launch of Apollo 11 at Cape Kennedy, Florida. The event is free and open to the public however, advance registration is preferred. Register Here!

Also on Smart Talk, author Catherine Chung discusses her much anticipated latest novel The Tenth Muse. The historical novel details a trailblazing mathematician who unearths her family story and its roots in World War II. Chung is set to appear at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore on Friday, July 12 at 7 p.m.

Forest conservation and Presidential candidate Joe Sestak

What to look for on Smart Talk, Monday, July 8, 2019: 

Pennsylvania has more than two million acres of state forest land. The forests provide economic, social and ecological benefits to the state.  The state forests are considered a resource for recreation, plant and animal habitat, water and air purification and aesthetic beauty.

However, forests face several challenges to remain healthy including development, climate change, invasive species and fire.

At the same time, most forest land is owned and controlled by private property owners.

How forests are conserved, maintained and managed will have a great impact on their future and consequently the health of the ecosystem, plants, animal, waterways and the air we breathe.

Monday’s Smart Talk explores the health of Pennsylvania’s forests and what’s being done to ensure their future.

Appearing on Smart Talk to discuss how individuals and state programs can work to conserve Pennsylvania forests are Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania State Forester Ellen Shultzabarger and Josh Parrish, Director of the Nature Conservancy’s Working Woodlands Program.

Also, Joe Sestak is the 25th Democrat to announce a 2020 presidential campaign. Sestak said he plans to center his presidential campaign around his experience in the military, combating climate change and countering Russia and China’s global influence.

Sestak was the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress when he represented Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District from 2007 to 2011, according to his campaign website.

Sestak joins us on Smart Talk to discuss the issues and his priorities as president.

The Supreme Court and Summer of Space


What to look for on Smart Talk, Tuesday, July 3, 2019:

The Supreme Court concluded its latest term last week, releasing decisions on controversial issues including the census and gerrymandering.

In total, the Court heard arguments in 69 cases this term that broached subjects from religious symbols on public property and federal power on Native American land to the limits of federal agency power in interpreting laws and federal regulations.

As always, many of the rulings attracted significant attention, but some cases that could have an impact on how government functions flew under the radar. And, as the 2020 presidential election approaches, candidates are beginning to discuss their vision for the federal judiciary.

Joining us on Wednesday’s Smart Talk to break down the most important rulings from the term and to discuss the role the Supreme Court and federal judiciary could play in the 2020 presidential election is Scott Boddery, a constitutional scholar and political scientist at Gettysburg College.

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Professor Scott Boddery

Also, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, WITF is presenting a Summer of Space programming on both WITF-TV and WITF 89.5 FM. Appearing on Smart Talk to share his recollections of the moon landing is retired WITF Senior Vice President and current Senior Advisor Mike Greenwald, who witnessed and reported the launch of Apollo 11 at Cape Kennedy, Florida. See Mike Greenwald’s 1969 report here.

We also would like to hear your memories of one of America’s greatest scientific accomplishments. Call 1-800-729-7532 during the show to share your memory or leave a message any time before the show airs.

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Mike Greenwald at Cape Kennedy

Surprise medical bills and tracking sharks


One in three privately-insured Pennsylvanians have received a surprise medical bill, an unexpected bill from a healthcare provider to a patient for treatment that an insurance company will not cover. Sometimes, these bills come when a patient inadvertently receives care from an out-of-network provider, while, in other cases, bills may come from “middle men” or providers whom in-network physicians subcontract for services like anesthesia or lab testing.

New research from the Altarum Healthcare Value Hub in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) shows that most people try to pay these bills in full or through a payment plan, but they may have other options. Now, PHAN is advocating legislation that would keep these billing disputes between insurance companies and healthcare providers so that patients are not caught in the middle.

Jim Poland, a business owner from York, faced bankruptcy after a family member received treatment at an out-of-network facility that led to a surprise medical bill. He joins Smart Talk to share his story along with Antoinette Kraus, Founding Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, and Lynn Quincy, Director of the Healthcare Value Hub.

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Jim Poland

Also, summer is now in full swing and many Pennsylvanians are heading to the beach.

Recent news accounts of shark encounters along the eastern seaboard, from North Carolina to Maryland, may cause some vacationers to take pause. While shark attacks are exceedingly rare, the fish nevertheless remain a source of fascination and sometimes fear. Miss Costa is a 12-foot white shark who has been tracked since September 2016 when she was first tagged near Nantucket, Massachusetts. Since then, she’s traveled 14,202 miles along the East Coast as of July 2.

Appearing on Smart Talk to help demystify shark movement and tracking is Dr. Bryan Franks, Assistant Professor of Biology & Marine Science at the Jacksonville University Marine Science Research Institute. Jacksonville University is a collaborative partner with OCEARCH, a scientific research and data collecting organization.

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Bryan Franks

Fighting to save lives from suicide


If you or someone you know is in need of help or someone to talk to, please contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 800-273-8255 (TTY at 800-799-4889) or visit

What to look for on Smart Talk, Monday, July 1, 2019:

When a person dies by suicide their family and friends are left wondering how they could have prevented it from happening. Their feelings of helplessness and despair can be overwhelming.


But imagine realizing that your loved one wasn’t “alone” when they died but were given instructions on how to kill themselves and encouraged to follow through.


A York family is dealing with this reality, after the death of their 25-year-old daughter in May.


Chip and Jackie Bieber’s daughter, Shawn Shatto, died by suicide last month with the help of an online chat room. They want to raise the alarm that these internet sites exist and are legal in Pennsylvania and much of the country. The Biebers join Smart Talk to share their story.

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Chip and Jackie Bieber with a picture of their daughter Shawn


Also, the statewide Suicide Prevention Task Force formed on May 29 develop a long-term strategy to reduce suicide in Pennsylvania. On average, one person dies by suicide every four hours in Pennsylvania.


Appearing on Smart Talk to talk about their vision and prevention strategy are Govan Martin, chair of the Prevent Suicide PA Board of Directors and a member of the Suicide Prevention Task Force, Dr. Perri Rosen of the PA office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and Caitlin Palmer, special adviser to the secretary of the Department of Human Services and lead agent on the Suicide Prevention Task Force.

If you or someone you know is in need of help or someone to talk to, please contact the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 800-273-8255 (TTY at 800-799-4889) or visit