High court decision highlights need for major changes to Pennsylvania’s education funding system
Feb. 17. 2016
Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center-PA, issued the following statement in response to the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in West Philadelphia Achievement Charter Elementary School vs. the School District of Philadelphia and the School Reform Commission. The Court held that the General Assembly, in passing Act 46, which granted the SRC the power to suspend provisions of the School Code without any clear limitation, violated the non-delegation rule in the Pennsylvania Constitution. Specifically, under this ruling, the SRC is not able to suspend the charter school law to impose caps on charter school enrollment:
“The Education Law Center was not a party to the litigation, but the case highlights the dire financial implications of the absence of adequate, stable funding for students in Philadelphia’s public schools. Students have already endured lay-offs of thousands of their teachers and support staff and seen critical programs slashed in response to drastic state funding cuts.
“In the absence of an adequately funded formula that accounts for stranded costs to districts due to charter expansion – and in the absence of larger systemic charter funding reforms – this decision substantially destabilizes the district’s long-term finances.
“The court’s decision is just the latest in a long line of developments showing that Pennsylvania’s education funding system is fundamentally flawed and fails to provide our children with the resources they need to meet the Commonwealth’s own academic standards and benchmarks.
The decision also stands for the proposition that the court can direct the legislature to undertake its constitutional duties. Just as the non-delegation clause is enforceable by the high court, the Education Clause of our state Constitution is also subject to judicial review. In our school funding case, now pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, we are asking the Court to enforce the Legislature’s duty to support a thorough and efficient system of public education and the right to equal protection under the law. In the absence of such a directive, the General Assembly has – and will – continue to abdicate its constitutional obligations.
“The parents, school districts and statewide organizations, represented by ELC and our partners, are asking the Court to enforce the Legislature’s duties, just as it enforced the non-delegation clause in the case decided yesterday. In the meantime, Governor Wolf and the General Assembly must also step up to the plate and approve adequate funding now to serve the needs of students. We must provide the sustained investment our children need to succeed – regardless of their ZIP code, income or race.”
The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, and children experiencing homelessness.
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