Analyzing the Effects of COVID-19 on Educational Equity in Rural Pennsylvania School Districts


  • Kai A. Schafft
  • Annie Maselli
  • Mathew Gardner Kelly
  • Katharine Dulaney
  • Laura E. Pirkle Howd
  • David A. Gamsom
  • Ashley N. Patterson
  • Betsy Boggs
  • Erica Frankenberg



COVID-19, educational equity, superintendency, educational leadership, school boards, school finance


Using a mixed methods approach that combined state-level institutional data and local interview and school district data, this research examined how COVID-19 has (re)shaped rural school districts’ ongoing efforts to identify and address equity concerns along geographic, fiscal, instructional, and racial/ethnic lines across Pennsylvania. This analysis examined institutional and socio-demographic features and trends, with in-depth local analysis from a stratified sample of districts. Analyses across rural Pennsylvania districts, as well as deeper case study analyses of selected districts, focused on understanding how rural districts have defined, responded, and adapted to equity concerns amid the pandemic, and analyzed district factors that might help to explain variations in responses and outcomes. This project’s research questions were: (1) What are the key equity challenges faced by rural Pennsylvania school districts in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic? (2) What types of equity issues are rural district leaders (e.g., school board directors and superintendents) aware of, and in what ways do their planned and/or implemented responses prioritize equity, if at all? (3) What are the key policy implications for addressing educational inequities in rural Pennsylvania school districts as schools gradually transition out of pandemic conditions? Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, public schools in rural Pennsylvania already faced a range of serious challenges including persistent poverty, funding disparities, lack of broadband access, and declining enrollments. The pandemic has served to deepen these and other forms of inequities, posing pressing challenges for the creation of timely and effective policy.