Attorneys to Court: Hear our case on behalf of Pennsylvania students
March 11, 2015 – Parents, advocates, and school district personnel descended on Commonwealth Court today to hear arguments against legislative leaders, state education officials, and Pennsylvania’s Governor for failure to uphold the state’s constitutional obligation to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education.
Attorneys from the Education Law Center, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and O’Melveny & Myers LLP, are representing parents, six school districts, and advocacy organizations in the case initially filed in state court on Nov. 11, 2014 against legislative leaders, state education officials, and Pennsylvania’s Governor.
In William Penn School District, et al., v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, et al., the petitioners detail the state’s failure to ensure that essential resources are available for all of Pennsylvania’s public school students to meet state academic standards and proficiency targets established by the Legislature.
On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of students throughout the state who lack basic educational supports and services – such as functioning school libraries, up-to-date textbooks and curriculum materials, reasonable class sizes, guidance counselors, school nurses, vocational ed and college prep classes, and academic tutoring programs – the petitioners have asked the court to order the state to cease using a funding scheme that does not provide enough funding such that students have access to the resources they need to meet state standards and order the state to create and maintain a public education system that meets the requirements of the state constitution.
“We are simply asking the court to undertake its fundamental duty to interpret and enforce Pennsylvania’s Constitution. This is certainly how other state courts have seen it,” said ELC Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney. “Pennsylvania’s school children deserve to be heard and the court has a duty to act. If the court rules that it has no role, it means that the Education Clause of our constitution cannot be enforced and is a hollow promise.”
State officials have asked the court to dismiss the case. The Commonwealth Court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming months. Regardless of the decision, an appeal of the ruling to the state Supreme Court is likely.
“We are asking that the court agree to hear the merits of this case,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. “The legislature needs to know it does not have the power to ignore the constitution and that it can be held accountable if it fails to fund our school system so that all students have an opportunity to meet the state’s own educational standards.”