School-funding suit headed for highest Pa. court
May 20, 2015 – Kristen A. Graham, The Philadelphia Inquirer – Contending that Pennsylvania’s method of school funding is broken, lawyers representing a group of parents, school districts, and statewide associations are taking their case to the state’s high court, they said in court papers filed Wednesday.
Commonwealth Court judges in April tossed a lawsuit filed by the William Penn School District, Philadelphia parents, and others, ruling that education funding was a matter for the legislature and not the courts to decide.
During oral arguments, lawyers arguing for the state said that Pennsylvania was meeting its constitutional obligation merely by keeping schools open.
Jennifer Clarke, the plaintiff’s lawyer, said in a statement, “Our Supreme Court bears the responsibility for ensuring that our most precious constitutional rights are protected.” She is executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Pennsylvania.
The court is legally obligated to hear the appeal, Clarke said.
The suit was brought in November by seven parents, six districts, the statewide NAACP, and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. They said the state had “adopted an irrational school funding system that does not deliver the essential resources students need and discriminates against children based on where they live and the wealth of their communities.”
Similar suits have also been tossed out, but lawyers say that the adoption of statewide academic standards would force the court to acknowledge that Pennsylvania is not providing an adequate education.
“Today, many students across the state are finishing yet another school year without the basic resources they need to meet rigorous state-imposed standards,” said Maura McInerney of the Education Law Center, who also represents the plaintiffs. “It is time for our courts to recognize the substantial developments that have taken place since previous lawsuits were heard and ensure that the legislature complies with its constitutional duty to provide a thorough and efficient system of public education. Pennsylvania’s public school students are entitled to their day in court.”
The lawsuit comes as Gov. Wolf has proposed millions more dollars to school districts across the state, and a bipartisan commission has been holding hearings to develop an education-funding formula, which Pennsylvania lacks.
The plaintiffs say that a judicial fix is needed, though, to address the long-term concerns of Pennsylvania’s children.
The timetable for the case is not clear. The court will issue a briefing schedule and determine when the case will be heard.