School Funding Lawsuit


Week 7 of the PA School Funding Trial: Poverty is Not Destiny

Pizza graphic. Currently, the PA legislature underfunds our public schools by $4.6 billion. No matter how you slice it, the pie just isn't big enough.

January 15, 2022 — The superintendents of the School District of Philadelphia and neighboring William Penn School District testified this week in Commonwealth Court, where a central theme continued to be the urgency to provide adequate resources to support success for students living in low-wealth school districts.

The testimony by Dr. Eric Becoats of William Penn on Monday and Dr. William Hite of Philadelphia on Tuesday and Thursday about their respective districts was buttressed by the final witness of the week, prominent education policy scholar Dr. Pedro Noguera, a sociologist who is an expert on strategies and interventions that can improve educational outcomes for children experiencing poverty.

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Becoats, who become superintendent in William Penn in 2020, has had to lead the district through the pandemic and experienced the challenges of operating schools remotely in a district with limited technology resources. Like Hite in Philadelphia, Becoats leads a district where the condition of school buildings is “deplorable.”

Federal emergency pandemic funds have helped, but those are one-time funds that expire in 2024. “We will revert back to where we were,” he said. “And in my opinion, that’s unacceptable.”

Hite is in his 10th year as superintendent in Philadelphia, including several years at the beginning of his tenure when the district’s staff was decimated by layoffs due to a sharp reduction in state aid. He said that while the district has been able to restore many positions and get on a more sound financial footing, “we still haven’t returned to the staffing – the levels that we had prior to all of those cuts.”

The gaps he cited included services for English learners, counseling supports, and the $4.5 billion estimate for addressing the district’s accumulated backlog of facilities maintenance costs.

Noguera, the dean of University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education, described a range of educational interventions that research have shown make a difference for students in poverty—interventions that are often out of reach for students in underfunded schools, including low-wealth districts in Pennsylvania.

“While schools cannot eliminate poverty, schools can play a role in compensating to the effects of poverty so that education can play a greater role in promoting social mobility and ending intergenerational poverty,” Noguera said. The needed measures cost money, however.

Policy approaches that he highlighted include smaller class sizes in early grades, school counselors, professional development for teachers working in high-poverty schools, reading specialists, and preschool programs.

The trial will resume on Tuesday, after a break for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, with testimony from the state’s top education official, Education Secretary Noe Ortega, who is a respondent in the lawsuit. You can follow the court’s livestream of the trial at

“You have to make a series of trade-offs, and every decision is based on what you may not be able to do for something else.” – School District of Philadelphia superintendent William Hite

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