HARRISBURG, PA. (Erie News Now) – Wednesday marked day 30 of the public education funding lawsuit against the commonwealth.
This week, the court heard testimony from Pennsylvania’s top education official, Department of Education Secretary Dr. Noe Ortega.
Before he was appointed Secretary of Education in 2020, Ortega spent three years leading the department’s higher education division.
“It was significant to have the state’s top education official testify,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr. “He brought additional insights about the extent of racial and economic disparity in higher ed attainment.”
Gordon Klehr is the Executive Director at the Education Law Center, one of the two law centers representing petitioners since the trial began Nov. 12.
She says Ortega’s testimony provided valuable insight and data to help understand the multi-layered impact of underfunding.
“The goal is to graduate students, college and career ready. Pennsylvania isn’t doing that because the state isn’t providing adequate or equitable funding,” said Gordon Klehr.
Post-secondary attainment was the center of Ortega’s testimony. He shared insight and experience from his previous position and spoke about the impact inadequate and inequitable K-12 funding has on post-secondary attainment, especially for those in minority communities. Ortega testified to the disparities Pennsylvania has in post-secondary attainment between low-income students and those in wealthier areas, as well as students of color and their white peers.
Ortega’s testimony also indicates the commonwealth is falling short of its overall post-secondary attainment goal.
Pennsylvania’s State Board of Education set a goal in 2018 for 60% of working age adults, between age 25-64, to attain some formal post-secondary credential by 2025, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or an industry certification.?
“Pennsylvania has academic standards that expect all students to be college and career ready after graduation. Underfunding means the resources aren’t in place to allow all students to meet those standards,” said Gordon Klehr.
Pennsylvania has a 50.7% post-secondary attainment rate, which ranks the commonwealth behind 28 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It’s also roughly 10% below the commonwealth’s goal to meet workforce demands.
Throughout the course of eight weeks, petitioners, expert witnesses, parents, and many more have raised serious concerns about the commonwealth’s public education funding.
“We have heard story after story from superintendents and school staff about large classes with insufficient staff, the absence of reading specialists and other intensive academic supports, difficulty hiring and keeping teachers and administrators, worn outdated textbooks, deficient technology, limited offerings in art, music, athletics, foreign languages, insufficient services for English learners, inadequate preschool offerings, not enough counselors and social workers. The list goes on,” said Gordon Klehr.
“What we consistently have heard is that students who should be getting the most support are getting the least,” said Gordon Klehr. “Money matters, and we’ve heard it from districts who talk about not having the resources. We’ve also heard from expert witnesses who have reiterated the point that students experiencing poverty perform significantly better when they attend well-funded schools,” said Gordon Klehr.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education told ErieNewsNow they are unable to comment on pending litigation.
Petitioners expect to conclude witness testimony sometime next week.