School Funding Lawsuit


Recapping Week Three of the PA School Funding Trial

December 11, 2021 – The third week of the school funding trial included witnesses from two school districts that are challenging the Pennsylvania state legislature’s school funding system: Greater Johnstown and Shenandoah Valley. Greater Johnstown serves the City of Johnstown and surrounding communities in Cambria County, a former center of Western Pennsylvania’s steel industry. Shenandoah Valley, a small rural district, is in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s former anthracite coal country.

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Superintendent Amy Arcurio of Greater Johnstown concluded nearly three days of testimony Wednesday morning. Johnstown’s elementary school serves 1,200 students – and can afford only two reading specialists. Every year, Arcurio said, the district needs to make “awful” decisions about which students can receive the limited services they are able to provide.

Stephanie Kobal, a first grade teacher at Johnstown Elementary School, followed her on the stand. Kobal described the district’s difficulty recruiting substitute teachers. Any day one of her fellow teachers is absent without a substitute – a routine occurrence – that class is “split,” meaning she has to welcome a group of students from that classroom into her own. On the day she was testifying in Harrisburg, three first grade classes were split.

Court also heard testimony this week from Eric Kocsis, the business manager for Greater Johnstown from 2016 to 2020. He described how after his hire, he was quickly faced with the decision to close the district’s middle school in 2017, when the district determined that it could not afford to make the millions of dollars in repairs needed to make the building safe for students.

Brian Waite, superintendent of Shenandoah Valley School District, spent more than a day on stand. The district ranks 11th in the state in the percentage of its students who are English learners. The district serves more than twice as many English learners as it did in 2008. Despite this increase, Waite said, the district’s number of English learner teachers has not increased since 2008. It is still four, leaving a caseload of approximately 35 students for each teacher. 

The week’s final witness, who will complete her testimony on Monday, was Karen Molchanow, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Board of Education, who testified about state academic standards and goals.

“[My students] deserve one-to-one tutoring for the right block of time with a certified interventionist. They’re struggling and they deserve that assistance.”
Stephanie Kobal, a first grade teacher in Johnstown Elementary School who works with students who are below grade level in reading.

Court will resume at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 13. There will be no proceedings on Wednesday, Dec. 15. We intend to call the following witnesses over the course of next week:

• Tracey Campanini, Deputy Secretary for the Office of Child Development and Early Learning

• Dr. Steven Barnett, Founding Co-Director of the National Institute for Early Education Research and a Board of Governors Professor of Education at Rutgers University

• Dr. Damaris Rau, Superintendent of the School District of Lancaster.

• Matthew Przywara, Chief Financial Officer, School District of Lancaster

You can follow along via the Court’s livestream, which we will link to on the page each day. No recording or archiving is allowed.

We hope you will continue to follow the case and continue to demand that our leaders in Harrisburg live up to their constitutional responsibility to ensure that all students, regardless of their community’s wealth, can receive the quality public education they need to prepare for life in the 21st century.

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