The landmark Pennsylvania education funding lawsuit filed by ELC and its partners can proceed, a Commonwealth Court judge ruled, as reported by Dale Mezzacappa of the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. The judge rejected the argument made by Republican legislative leaders that it has been rendered moot and should be dismissed. Read more here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 21, 2018
Contact: Paul Socolar, Education Law Center, 215-906-1250,
Jonathan McJunkin, Public Interest Law Center, 267-546-1305,
In victory for students, Court rules that Pa. school funding lawsuit is not moot
Commonwealth Court dismisses Senator Scarnati’s motion that the case was rendered moot by the adoption of a fair funding formula in 2016
Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court that a lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding system can move forward, denying a claim by state legislative leaders that the lawsuit was rendered moot by the state’s adoption of a funding formula in 2016.
The lawsuit was filed in 2014 by the Education Law Center and Public Interest Law Center on behalf of parents, school districts, and statewide organizations alleging that the state’s school funding system violates Pennsylvania’s constitution, due to significant underfunding and gross disparities in allocations that penalize students in low-wealth districts.
The ruling is a significant victory for petitioners in the lawsuit William Penn School District et al. v. PA Department of Education et al., eliminating a major obstacle to a trial in the case.
Judge Robert Simpson wrote the court order, rejecting claims by Senate President Scarnati and House Speaker Turzai that a change in the school funding formula made the issues in the case moot.
“We are pleased that the court has denied respondents’ baseless attempt to dismiss our lawsuit,” said Education Law Center Legal Director Maura McInerney. “As the court recognized, our challenge to the inadequacy and inequity of Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system will persist. We look forward to presenting our case at trial.”
The petitioners’ responding to the mootness challenge demonstrated that the spending gap between wealthy and poor school districts has actually widened since the lawsuit was filed, and that state funds available for classroom spending have declined. Pennsylvania’s school funding formula applies to only a tiny fraction of the state’s K-12 education funding.
“Pennsylvania’s school funding system still deprives students of the resources they need,” said Public Interest Law Center Staff Attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg. “We are talking about the basics: not enough teachers, out-of-date books, and buildings that crumble around the children inside of them. That was the reality when we filed the case, and it continues today.”
Respondents in the case – legislative leaders, the governor, the secretary of education, the department of education, and the state board of education – will finally be required to answer the allegations in the lawsuit. Gov. Wolf opposed the mootness challenge and urged the court to move the case to trial swiftly. Petitioners have requested a scheduling conference and hope to proceed to trial quickly. The date for a trial is not yet known.
The petitioners in the case are six families, six school districts – William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley – the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the NAACP of Pennsylvania. In the fall of 2017, in a landmark ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that there are judicially manageable standards for courts to review school funding issues. The state’s highest court remanded the case to Commonwealth Court for a full trial. Since that ruling, two respondents – Senator Scarnati and Representative Turzai – have tried to dismiss the case or further delay trial. A May 2018 Commonwealth Court ruling dismissed most of their preliminary objections but directed parties to file briefs on the issue of mootness.
The Education Law Center-PA (ELC) is a nonprofit, 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, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit elc-pa.org or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.
The Public Interest Law Center uses high-impact legal strategies to advance the civil, social, and economic rights of communities in the Philadelphia region facing discrimination, inequality, and poverty. We use litigation, community education, advocacy, and organizing to secure their access to fundamental resources and services in the areas of public education, housing, health care, employment, environmental justice and voting. For more information visit www.pubintlaw.org or follow on Twitter @PubIntLawCtr.
Delco News Network quotes ELC Legal Director Maura McInerney in an article on Governor Wolf and Senator Joe Scarnati’s opposing briefs on the legal status of ELC’s school funding lawsuit. They write: “‘The governor recognizes that our public school children continue to suffer the painful consequences of underfunded schools every day. He understands that their need for justice is now,’ said Maura McInerney. ‘There can be no question that a dispute continues to exist regarding the adequacy and equity of Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system.'” Read more here.
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The Inquirer reports on education advocate Jean Searle’s success in reuniting with her son, who had been taken from her while she was institutionalized many years prior. The article quotes ELC Legal Director Maura McInerney, who helped Searle reunite with her child. Read more here.
ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr writes a letter to the editor in the Delco Times addressing the pervasive challenges underfunded school districts have in meeting the needs of special education students. Read more here.
WHYY reports on poor conditions in Philadelphia-area juvenile detention centers, quoting ELC Legal Director Maura McInerney. Read more here.
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WHYY reports on residency enforcement policies that disproportionately affect students of color, quoting ELC Legal Director Maura McInerney. Read more here.
The Sanatoga Post writes about the two dozen advocacy organizations that worked together to pressure Pennsylvania lawmakers to increase the money available for special education purposes. The article quotes ELC Attorney Reynelle Brown Staley. Read here.
The Notebook reports on ELC’s fair funding case and its progress toward trial, quoting ELC Legal Director Maura McInerney. Read more here.
Public Source quotes ELC Attorney Cheryl Kleiman on whether or not arming school personnel increases school safety. Read more.
ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr is featured in Generocity‘s article on women leading public interest law organizations in Philadelphia. Read more here.
Triblive quotes ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr on the legal implications in Pennsylvania of President Trump’s proposal to train and arm teachers with firearms. Read more.
WHYY quotes ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr on Governor Wolf’s proposed budget. “Our children need more,” Klehr writes. Read more here.
ELC Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr writes about the bias in school discipline against students of color and argues that school suspensions in under-resourced schools often do more harm than good. Read more here.
Newsweek article cites ELC report highlighting how state underfunding of schools deepens inequity. Read more here.
The Inquirer reports on an Education Law Center complaint about a child who had her enrollment to a charter school, Franklin Towne Charter High School, rescinded after the school found out she had an IEP and required emotional support services. Read more.
In our ongoing legal challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s school funding system, we filed a brief in Commonwealth Court in July, rebutting Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati’s claim that the adoption of a school funding formula in 2016 renders the case moot. In briefs filed August 3, Gov. Tom Wolf also rejected the mootness claim, saying that funding issues persist, while Sen. Scarnati While Sen. Scarnati and Rep. Michael Turzai continue to seek dismissal based on mootness, they fail to dispute in any way the growing disparities between high-wealth and low-wealth districts. Read more in this August 7, 2018, News Release.