William Penn SD et al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et al. (Pa. Commonwealth Court, 2018)

Chronology of the case

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial beginning November 12, 2021. Read our latest press release about the case and trial schedule.

Read Frequently Asked Questions About the School Funding Case.

The case, initially filed in 2014 on behalf of parents, school districts, and statewide organizations in response to the failure of Pennsylvania’s legislature to adequately and equitably fund public education, was remanded to Commonwealth Court in September 2017 by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the claims in our case are subject to judicial review.

Following oral argument on March 7, 2018, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled in our favor on May 7, 2018, in this case, overruling a set of objections filed by state legislative leaders and moving our school funding lawsuit closer to trial. The court spelled out the next steps in the case, directing the parties to address two issues before it goes to trial:  Whether the state’s adoption of education funding formula renders the case moot and whether education is an important or fundamental right under Pennsylvania law.  Read more in the May 7, 2018, news release.

Our brief filed July 6, 2018, refuted the argument made by then-respondent Sen. Scarnati that the funding formula renders the case moot, pointing out the decline in funding available for classroom expenses and the widening gaps in spending between low-wealth and high-wealth districts. Read more in the July 6, 2018, news release. The respondents also filed briefs on whether the case is moot, as described in the August 7, 2018, news release.

The court denied the respondents’ petition to dismiss the case as moot in an order issued August 21, 2018, clearing the way for the case to move toward trial, as described in this news release.

In a scheduling order issued on December 6, 2018, the court set a tentative trial date for 2020, as described in this news release. In the two years following this order, the court issued several briefing orders and updated the schedule. In summer 2020, the parties completed the extensive pre-trial phase known as discovery, when each party was gathering evidence to support their case through documents, witness statements, and other means. Over the course of the discovery process, the parties completed more than 70 depositions. The parties have exchanged multiple expert reports and rebuttals. Filings relating to motions for summary judgment were submitted in late 2020. The court issued rulings on those motions in early 2021, the last major step before scheduling the case for trial; read our March 2021 news release.

In an April 1, 2021 order, the court set a schedule for pretrial filings and tentatively scheduled the trial for the fall. In summer 2021, the court ruled on several motions in limine (motions to limit evidence), denying a motion by respondents to preclude the introduction of evidence of racial disparities.

The court has now scheduled trial to begin on November 12, 2021 in Courtroom 3002 of the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg. Commonwealth Court judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer will continue to preside over the case. We expect trial to run through December. At a pre-trial conference on June 21, 2021, Judge Jubelirer said that trial will be held five days a week and that a livestream will be available to the public. A final pretrial conference is scheduled for Sept. 29, 2021.

Key court documents

Commonwealth Court Order Setting Oral Argument (1/31/2018)

Our Brief in Opposition to Preliminary Objections  (2/15/2018)

Brief of Senator Joseph Scarnati

Brief of Governor Wolf

Brief of Speaker Michael Turzai

Brief of State Board of Education

Decision Overruling Preliminary Objections (5/7/2018)

Our Brief in Opposition to Mootness Application (7/6/2018)

Response of Senator Scarnati on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Response of Representative Turzai on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Response of Governor Wolf on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Response of State Board of Education on Mootness (8/3/2018)

Scarnati Application for Decision on Mootness (8/13/2018)

Answer to Scarnati Application for Decision on Mootness (8/14/2018)

Order Denying Application to Dismiss for Mootness (8/21/2018)

Answer and New Matter:  State Board of Education (9/20/2018)

Answer and New Matter: Sen. Scarnati (9/19/2018)

Answer and New Matter: Rep. Turzai (9/19/2018)

Answer and New Matter: Gov. Wolf (9/19/2018)

Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  Rep. Turzai (9/21/2018)

Non-Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  Sen. Scarnati (9/21/2018)

Non-Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  State Board of Education (9/21/2018)

Non-Opposition to Scheduling Conference:  Gov. Wolf (9/21/2018)

Scheduling Order (12/6/2018)

Order Granting Application for Extension (9/12/2019)

Order Granting Application for Extension (11/20/2019)

Order Granting Application for Extension (1/24/2020)

Order Granting Application for Extension (3/20/2020)

Order Granting Application for Extension (5/28/2020)

Order Filed for Oral Argument (5/29/2020)

Order Granting Application for Extension (8/10/20)

Order Granting Application for Extension (9/24/20)

Memorandum Opinion Denying SBE Motion for Summary Dismissal (2/29/21)

Opinion and Order Denying Application for Summary Relief (3/8/2021)

Order Granting Application for Extension (4/1/2021 – includes tentative trial start date)

Scheduling Order (6/22/21)

Memorandum Opinion on Post-2014 Evidence (7/23/21)

Memorandum Opinion Denying Motion to Preclude Evidence of Racial Disparities (7/28/21)

Memorandum Opinion Directing Petitioners to Supplement Some Discovery Responses (8/11/21)

Scheduling Order (8/18/2021)

Scheduling Order (9/17/2021)


William Penn SD et al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et al. (Pa., 2017)

On September 28, 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court delivered a major victory to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania students by ordering the Commonwealth Court to hold a trial on whether state officials are violating the state’s constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund public education.

The lawsuit – William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. – was filed in 2014 on behalf of parents, school districts, and statewide organizations in response to the failure in Harrisburg to adequately fund public education and provide students with the resources they need to succeed academically.

In a sweeping decision, the Court agreed that it has a clear duty to consider the case and ensure legislative compliance with the state’s Education Clause, which requires the General Assembly to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education” for Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren. The Court also found no basis to deny consideration of claims by parents and school districts that the legislature’s grossly unequal funding discriminates against children based on where they live and the wealth of their communities.  Read the decision here.

Continue reading

William Penn SD et. al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et. al. (Pa., 2015)

On Sept. 20, 2015, public school parents, school districts, and two statewide associations continued their legal challenge of Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system, telling the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the availability of a high-quality public education in Pennsylvania will continue to be a “function of community wealth rather than a constitutional guarantee” unless the Court agrees to hear the legal challenge.

Supreme Court – Brief of Appellant e-filed

Amici Brief: Law School Professors

Amici Brief: PCCY et al

Amici Brief: Consortium for Public Education

Amici Brief: PFT, AFT

Read more at ELC and PILC’s website about the case, available here.

William Penn SD et. al. v. Pa. Dept. of Education et. al. (Pa. Commw. Ct., 2014)

The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia filed suit in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court on November 10, 2014 on behalf of six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide associations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor for failing to uphold the General Assembly’s constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education.

Complaint Summary

Full Complaint















Opinion, 4-25-2015


R.S.B. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education et.al. (Commonwealth Court, 2012)

In June 2012, after granting expedited review and oral argument en banc, the Commonwealth Court dismissed as moot ELC’s Emergency Petition for Mandamus filed on behalf of families facing potential school closures in fiscally-distressed Chester Upland School District. However, as a result of a separate action filed in federal court and a Motion for Intervention filed on behalf of students of the District by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), in August U.S. Federal District Judge Micheal Baylson approved a settlement agreement between the Chester Upland School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) requiring the State to repay past debt and fully fund operating expenses for the 2012-13 school year. Key provisions of the settlement agreement also require additional attention to and improvement of the school district’s special education services.

For more information on this settlement go to: http://pilcop.org/chester/


SDP v. Walter D. Palmer Charter School – Amicus Curiae (PA Supreme Court)

The Education Law Center filed an August 21, 2013 Amicus Curiae in support of the School District of Philadelphia in its case to maintain legally negotiated and agreed-upon charter school enrollment caps. “We find the District’s argument to be clearly correct on the legal merits and because an affirmation of the lower court’s decision would inevitably result in unfettered charter expansion and damage the overall quality of public education in Pennsylvania, particularly for the vulnerable student populations we seek to protect,” ELC wrote.