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Commonwealth Court Case

The Commonwealth Court case against the Pennsylvania Department of Education rolled on this afternoon, with testimony from a former Deputy Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education taking up much of today’s time in court.

A grim picture of public education in PA was painted in the courtroom today, one with unequal financial assistance and resources for students from different socioeconomic backgrounds, though held to the same academic standards.

The Public Interest Law Center is one organization suing the state, and their Legal Director has a simple motive for fighting back.

“Money matters when it comes to education. Resources matter…and, you’ll hear (that) from professional educators, from teachers, from superintendents,” said Mimi McKenzie, the Legal Director at the Public Interest Law Center. “The underfunding and the disparities are not getting better. In fact, they’re getting worse.”

The Greater Johnstown School District is one of six districts to file suit, and Superintendent Amy Arcurio will finish testimony she began Thursday on Friday morning. However, McKenzie says the issues impact more districts than the six involved here.

“Johnstown, in many respects, isn’t set apart,” she said. “This is a statewide problem, this is a problem that you see in…urban counties, or excuse me, urban school districts, rural school districts, suburban school districts, small city school districts like Greater Johnstown…so it’s not really contained to…just the six petitioner school districts…in the litigation.”

And while money is the big talking point, McKenzie says race ties in too, though the suit is not for discrimination on those grounds.

“Children of color are concentrated in these low-wealth districts that don’t have enough resources…to provide their students with a thorough and efficient education system, and children in those low-wealth districts…we also know…are not achieving the same level of outcomes as their…white peers in, in high-wealth districts.”

At the end of the day, she believes the goal is to change how school districts get financial backing to level the playing field.

“It shouldn’t matter, you know, whether you live in a high-wealth district or a low-wealth district, right,?” she asked rhetorically. “Because, the way the funding is working right now in Pennsylvania, we’re really relying on local school districts, local wealth, you know, and the problem is there’s real disparity between…the amount of money that local communities can make throughout Pennsylvania’s five-hundred, can raise throughout Pennsylvania’s five-hundred school districts.”

Arcurio will resume her testimony tomorrow morning at 9 am.

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