Last week, plaintiffs in William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education completed their case, and the state defendants will begin presenting their witnesses this week. Republican legislative leaders are contesting the plaintiffs’ claims that the current state education finance system violates the state constitution’s guarantee of an opportunity for a “thorough and efficient” education to all students. Democratic governor Tom Wolf is not contesting the plaintiffs’ claims.
Rucker Johnson, a public policy professor and labor economist at the University of California-Berkeley, was the plaintiffs’ final expert witness. He testified about using a nationally representative sample of 15,000 people, comparing outcomes from those who attended schools in states where courts ordered education funding reforms in response to large spending gaps between wealthy and poor districts — 28 states between 1971 and 2010 — with those who didn’t.
The average school-funding reform led to a 10% to 15% increase in per-pupil spending, Johnson said, and it had an impact: For low-income children, a 10% funding increase sustained for 12 years of schooling meant a 10% increase in future earnings, and a 6% decrease in the likelihood of being poor as an adult.
In states with funding reforms, the achievement gap between children from low- and high-income families decreased over time, while the opposite occurred in states without them, Johnson said. He also testified that the benefits of better funding double if students have quality pre-Kindergarten service.
Day by day summaries of the trial testimony are available at: https://www.fundourschoolspa.org/news/the-pennsylvania-school-funding-trial-at-a-glance.