School can’t ‘cure every societal ill’ GOP lawyers argue in cross-examination of Hite

Philadelphia schools superintendent William Hite took the stand for a second day Thursday in a historic trial that could change the way Pennsylvania funds its public education system.

During his first day of testimony, he described a district with large class sizes, high student needs that require extra support, and aging, unsafe school buildings.

Under cross-examination, Hite — who is stepping down at the end of the school year, after leading the district for a decade — acknowledged the district’s achievements over the last several years, from improved graduation rates to higher numbers of students enrolled in Advanced Placement and dual enrollment courses and on track to graduate in four years.

Defense attorney John Krill, representing GOP Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, sought to paint a rosier picture of the state’s largest school district than the one Hite presented in his direct testimony.

Hite acknowledged that, in recent years, his administration added hundreds of teachers, counselors, and nurses to district schools and invested millions in classroom technology.

Krill also sought to chip away at Hite’s assertion that more funding and additional resources are the keys to boosting student achievement. The plaintiffs in the case, including six school districts, several parents, and two statewide organizations, say the state’s current funding system is inadequate, inequitable and unconstitutional. While the School District of Philadelphia is not a petitioner in the case, a district parent is part of the lawsuit, and the outcome of the trial could have a substantial impact on Philadelphia’s budget.

During his direct testimony on Tuesday, Hite pointed to Mitchell Elementary School in West Philadelphia as an example of the strides students can make with additional resources.

Several years ago, Mitchell was among several low-performing schools chosen for extra support in an acceleration network.

Mitchell received additional staff members, including reading and math specialists, a counselor, and an assistant principal. Student attendance and test scores rose, and the school improved enough to exit the network.

Despite its advances, Mitchell’s proficiency rates on state exams remain low.

“How many more supports do you believe it would have taken to boost Mitchell to 100% proficiency?” Krill asked.

Hite did not provide a number, instead stating that “when you have schools with very low proficiency, there are two significant things that should happen. You have to have sufficient resources to meet whatever the needs of those children are, and those resources need to be sustainable and predictive and recurring.”

Krill revisited the subject during his second day of cross-examination, leading Hite to acknowledge that, while Mitchell improved enough to exit the acceleration network, several other schools have remained in the network “as long as it has existed,” despite also receiving additional resources.

“Those schools are still languishing in the acceleration network, aren’t they?” Krill asked.

“I wouldn’t classify it as languishing,” Hite said, “and we’re seeing improvement across many of those schools. But that improvement is not happening fast enough, in my opinion, because we are not able to give those schools the resources they need in order to accelerate their improvement.”

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