Lancaster college officers more likely to testify in schooling funding trial subsequent week | Native Information
Two senior Lancaster school district officials are expected to testify next week in a Commonwealth trial that could significantly change the way schools are funded in Pennsylvania.
The trial, now in its second week, is based on a lawsuit filed by six school districts – including Lancaster – multiple parents and two statewide organizations against government policy and education officials who claim the government funding system is both unfair and unfair insufficient. It will benefit historically underfunded school districts like Lancaster, Conestoga Valley, and even suburban school districts like Manheim Township.
Lancaster School District spokesman Adam Aurand told LNP | LancasterOnline on Wednesday that District Superintendent Damaris Rau and Chief of Finance and Operations Matt Przywara are expected to testify early next week. However, it has not been determined as the final schedule for the coming week has not yet been set.
“She is ready to be called at any time or not at all,” said Aurand of Rau.
Rau is one of the biggest local advocates for a change in the school funding system that critics say is scaring students, especially those from low-income families, black and Hispanic students, and students studying English as a second language.
Of the approximately 10,400 students in the Lancaster School District, 87% are economically disadvantaged, 19% are learning English and 19% are in need of special needs education. Approximately 62% of the student population are Hispanic and 16% are black.
The lawsuit alleges that Lancaster will need $ 4,510 more per student to meet the state benchmark for adequate education funding.
“If our school system doesn’t serve all students, it won’t live up to the promises of the (Pennsylvania) constitution,” Rau said earlier this year.
While Pennsylvania has a funding formula designed to benefit low-income counties and counties with students in need of more expensive services, it only applies to part of the state funding.
IU13 official testifies
The trial resumed on Tuesday after the Thanksgiving break. Up until that point, testimony had largely been based on the state’s funding system, with Penn State University professor Matthew Kelly highlighting the state’s funding differences and how it affects students’ chances of meeting state standards.
At the booth throughout Tuesday and Wednesday was Matthew Stem, who is currently the assistant director of Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13 but testified based on his previous position as assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education for the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
When asked Tuesday by Public Interest Law Center attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, Stem clearly linked the differences in academic performance with the resources available. Without additional funding, he said, “it is very, very unlikely that Pennsylvania will be able to fill the decade-long performance gaps, especially in schools with high percentages of poor students.”
Stem found that, for example, 37% of black students achieved good or advanced proficiency in English-language arts in 2018-19, compared with 71% of white students. He also pointed out that 76% of black students finished high school in four years, while 91% of white students finished high school in four years.
Stem is a Lancaster professional educator with over 22 years experience teaching, principal, district administrator and assistant principal in the Lancaster School District and the Wyomissing Area School District. He joined the IU13 after six years as responsible for K-12 schools at the state level.
In his testimony on Wednesday, Stem said funding inequalities across the state were particularly exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools were left without adequate HVAC systems, technology and space for social distancing.
Students in underfunded districts have missed out on learning due to a lack of resources and facilities, Stem said, adding that the billions in funding for pandemic relief helped mitigate these effects, albeit temporarily.
During Wednesday afternoon’s cross-examination, lawmakers stated that Pennsylvania was in the top 10 state spending per student and at one point wondered if additional funding would improve student results, rather than fill the pockets of district superintendents.
Much of the conversation that afternoon revolved around the state’s academic standards, assessments, professional and technical training, and the teacher certification process. The legislature’s defense targeted state standardized tests and tried to crack the reliability of the results by, among other things, asking why the state removes questions when too many students answer them correctly. Stem said he doesn’t think this will happen, but some questions will be flagged and checked if they turn out to be biased or poorly constructed.
Stem’s testimony is likely to continue today.
As a witness on deck, Amy Arcurio, Superintendent of the Greater Johnstown School District, is one of the six district applicants next to the Lancaster School District.
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