School Funding Lawsuit


Recapping Week Five of the PA School Funding Trial

December 23, 2021 – In a short fifth week of trial in the ongoing school funding case in Pennsylvania, we heard from leaders and staff of districts in cities, suburbs, and rural small towns, before heading into a holiday recess. Proceedings will resume on Jan. 3, beginning the eighth year for this landmark case since school districts and parents filed it in 2014.

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Matthew Przywara, the chief of finance and operations for the School District of Lancaster, shared that his petitioner district faces recurring expenditures of $13 million each year for renovations on a dozen school buildings, which could pay for hundreds of teachers. The renovations, and the costs and trade-offs they incur, are necessary, he said.

Przywara viewed and described photos of crowded classrooms, hallways turned into instructional spaces, and damaged facilities in recently renovated and yet-to-be renovated district buildings. The School District of Lancaster needs safe learning environments, Przywara said, and “we also need space that kids deserve.”

School District of Lancaster instructional coach Amanda Aikens, who works in Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School described the student supports her district lacks. “The demand that is put on a single classroom teacher is just too much, and [students] are not receiving the interventions and support that they need in order to achieve at these high levels,” she said at the close of her testimony. “They’re going to need a little extra.”

Lancaster is an urban district serving more than 10,000 students. Court also heard testimony from the leader of a small, rural school district with around 600 students: Matthew Splain, superintendent of Otto-Eldred School District in McKean County and board president of the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. He testified about challenges underfunded, low-wealth rural districts face: a limited tax base, high levels of poverty, increased costs for transportation, and difficulty attracting staff.

The week concluded with testimony from William Penn School District, a suburban district in Delaware County and the named petitioner in the lawsuit. “We’re [not] saying look how bad we’re being treated,” athletic director Raphal Curry said, after describing compelling disparities in resources between William Penn and its competitors in neighboring districts. “We’re saying: Look how much work we have to put in to give our kids a fair enough opportunity to feel like that they can make it from their circumstance.”

Kindergarten teacher Nicole Miller closed Day 21 of the trial with an overview of a typical day in her classroom, working by herself with 25 children who would benefit from more individualized interventions than she can provide alone. Miller told of kindergartners who have only 15 minutes a day for recess and share a small playground with 125 other students, while lacking critical reading and math support in their classroom. If she had more funding, Miller said, she would be able to “fill those learning gaps and better prepare my students… for first grade and beyond.”

The trial has been projected to last as long as 10 weeks.

“We also need space that kids deserve. Our kids deserve things that kids deserve in neighboring school districts.” – Matthew Przywara, financial and operations chief for the School District of Lancaster

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