November 30, 2021

Mallory Falk: As Pa. school funding trial resumes, here’s a cheat sheet on what’s happened so far

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In Pennsylvania, a landmark case is under way in the courts to determine if the state can be required to fix its hugely unequal school funding system. Mallory Falk at WHYY brings us up to speed on what has happened in the trial so far.

After a week-long break for Thanksgiving, a group of plaintiff school districts and parents return to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court on Tuesday to argue state lawmakers are failing in their constitutional mandate to provide students a “thorough and efficient system” of public education.

They say the state’s current model for funding schools is inadequate and inequitable, leading to a system of “haves and have nots.” If their case is successful, it could dramatically reshape how Pennsylvania funds education.

As the second week of witness testimony kicks off, with witnesses from the Greater Johnstown School District expected to take the stand, here’s a recap of what’s happened so far:

Over several days of testimony, leaders from Panther Valley described a cash-strapped, struggling school district with large class sizes, high teacher turnover, outdated textbooks, and one toilet for 75 kindergarteners.

The small, rural district, which spans Carbon and Schuylkill Counties, is one of six plaintiff school districts in the case.

Superintendent David McAndrew said he is forced to make decisions he knows are not in the best interest of children, like letting positions go unfilled after teachers retire and almost cutting the district’s arts and sports programs. (He was able to avoid that for now, thanks to federal pandemic relief funds, but worries what will happen when the money runs out.)

Fifth grade teacher Tara Yuricheck described paying out of pocket for basic supplies like pencils and glue sticks, along with extra lessons to help bring her history class into the 21st century. She uses a textbook that was printed in 1997 because the district can’t afford an update. Some copies are in bad physical shape, and there aren’t enough textbooks to go around.

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