School advocates sue Pennsylvania over funding
Nov. 10, 2014 – Peter Jackson, Associated Press – Public school advocates sued top state officials Monday, alleging that an irrational system of distributing state subsidies is creating academic inequities and depriving many students of the “thorough and efficient” public education system that the state constitution guarantees.
The lawsuit says the state has established strict academic standards but failed to provide equal resources for students who must meet them. The plaintiffs contend that per-pupil spending ranges from less than $10,000 in districts with low property values and incomes to more than $28,000 in those with higher property values and incomes.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the current funding formula violates the constitution and order state officials to devise a funding system that passes constitutional muster.
“Pennsylvania’s state constitution tells us that the buck stops with the state Legislature when it comes to public education. State officials know exactly what needs to be done, but they refuse to do it,” said Jennifer R. Clarke, director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
Six school districts, seven parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the NAACP are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in state Commonwealth Court by Clark’s organization and the Philadelphia-based Education Law Center. Defendants include the governor and the presiding officers of the state House and Senate and the state Department of Education.
The suit says fewer than half the students who took the Keystone exams in the 2012-13 school year passed the tests. Starting in the class of 2017, students must demonstrate their understanding of literature, biology and algebra by passing a test in each subject area or completing a project under an instructor’s guidance to get a diploma.
“How are kids supposed to pass the tests required to graduate (from) high school, find a job and contribute to our economy if their schools are starving for resources?” asked Jamela Millar, who has an 11-year-old child enrolled in the William Penn School District in Delaware County.
School districts participating in the suit are William Penn, Panther Valley School District, Lancaster School District, Greater Johnstown School District, Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Shenandoah Valley School District. The parent plaintiffs have children in one of those districts or the Philadelphia School District.
The constitution requires the state to provide “for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”
In the current fiscal year, the state will distribute $5.5 billion in basic aid among the 500 school districts. The total state expenditures on schools, including special education, employee pensions, special block grants and transportation, is scheduled to be slightly more than $10 billion.
Spokesmen for Gov. Tom Corbett and the Department of Education said they had not seen the lawsuit and declined immediate comment.