City’s public schools, education beneficiaries of new state budget

by Stacy M. Brown, Philadelphia Tribune, Jul 8, 2017

After state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a $32 billion budget that still has no defined plan in which to pay for it, many around the commonwealth have hailed the spending plan as a victory for public schools and for early childhood and special education.

Local lawmakers added that it’s a victory for Philadelphia area schools as well.

Continue reading

Does Pa. provide a ‘thorough and efficient’ education? A panel considers.

November 5 – The Philadelphia Public School Notebook  – by Greg Windle

Last Monday, the National Constitution Center hosted a panel where four people actively involved in education policy discussed the role of the Pennsylvania constitution in improving access to quality public education. The discussion was framed around the contentious policy of “school choice,” which advocates the expansion of charters and magnet schools.

The panel members debated how to interpret the constitution’s mandate that the state provide “thorough and efficient education” for all of its students.

Mark Gleason, of the Philadelphia School Partnership, said, “What’s especially significant about that phrase is the word that’s not there. It ends with ‘education,’ it doesn’t end with ‘education system.’” Gleason concluded that the state may be obliged to provide public education under the constitution, but that “it doesn’t mean the same way, through the same system.”

However, Deborah Gordon Klehr of the Education Law Center was quick to contradict him. She read directly from the constitution:

“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the commonwealth.”

Klehr explained that the constitution explicitly uses the term and that the state legislature is responsible for creating and maintaining that system.

Donna Cooper, of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, said she wished that “choice were a strategy for success.” But, she said, neither magnet schools nor charters help students who do not have access to them.

“You have to do it universally or you don’t move the needle,” she said.

As evidence of Pennsylvania’s lack of a “thorough” education system, Klehr pointed out that the commonwealth has “the largest gap between the wealthiest and poorest districts” of any state in the country.

Gleason claimed that Pennsylvania has, nonetheless, made progress over the last 10 or 15 years by providing some choice in low-income communities.

“We have school choice. The problem is we don’t have access to equal choice. … Families who can afford it – who live in the right zip code – have a choice.”

But Cooper argued that the expansion of magnets and charters exacerbate what is an inherently unequal system. “We can create pockets of success … but that is not a universal answer. Creating more choice comes at the expense of students who don’t have it.”

Gleason acknowledged that school choice causes stress on the larger system. But he said that if the state had a fair education funding formula, that stress would be diminished. He outlined a proposal where a weighted student formula would allot an amount to follow each child, regardless of what kind of school they attend.

Klehr pointed out that the state already commissioned a “costing out” study in 2007 to determine how much each district would need to bring all its students to academic proficiency. The formula assigned different weights, and per-pupil amounts, for factors including deep poverty and the need to learn English, and additional money to districts with high concentrations of these students.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell started using the formula in his education allocations with the goal of increasing the state’s share of total education spending to at least 50 percent. But that was abandoned by former Gov. Tom Corbett, who slashed state school aid.

“So we’ve measured it,” Klehr said, “we just abandoned it in 2011, and we’re hopeful that our General Assembly will bring that back for our students and for our schools.”

A legislative school funding commission followed a similar template in coming up with a fair funding formula in 2015. But with the state budget stalemate, there is still no agreement on how  the money should be distributed, much less on the total amount that should be spent.

Cooper blamed the state legislature, which, she said, “since 2011 has been unwilling to think about the words ‘thorough and efficient.’”

“A big piece of the solution lies with the courts,” said Klehr. “The Supreme Court has a responsibility.”

But not every failure of the system could be attributed to the interpretation of constitutional language. All the panel members agreed that Massachusetts, with a relatively similar constitution, is largely recognized as the state with the best public education system.

Cooper said that Massachusetts was not an anomaly, and many “others are doing better than us with very similarly worded constitutions.”

The fourth panelist was Ina Lipman, the executive director the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which awards tuition grants to low-income students to attend private schools. The money comes from two tax-credit programs for businesses, which get tax write-offs when they contribute to these funds.

Lipman said she thought school choice would improve if some of the state’s very small districts consolidated.

After the discussion, moderator Kristen Graham, the Inquirer’s Philadelphia schools beat reporter, interviewed Superintendent William Hite. She began by asking whether he believed that Philadelphia students were receiving a fair and equal education.

Hite responded with one word: “No.” He chuckled, and the auditorium erupted with laughter.

But the level of inequity is no laughing matter. Hite went on to talk about what the Philadelphia School District lacks due to insufficient resources.

Among other things, he said, he would use additional funds to “double down” on early childhood education including universal pre-K. He also reiterated that he hopes to get a new contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers this year.

GOP Budget Falls Short of Philly Schools Request

July 1, 2015 – Holly Otterbein, Philadelphia Magazine – Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the GOP-led legislature’s state budget Tuesday night, in part, he said, because it would set aside far less education funding than he believes is fair.

How much less?

Earlier this year, the Philadelphia School District asked state lawmakers for an extra $206 million. The Republican bill would have provided only an additional $21.8 million to the school district, according to data from Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. That’s about 11 percent of the surplus funding that district officials said they need.

Wolf’s proposed budget would also spend less on the school district than officials would like, but just slightly. His plan would allocate an extra $184 million to the city’s schools, according to district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

Although the GOP budget would have given the schools half a loaf, it still would have been enough to cover the district’s $85 million shortfall when combined with the $70 million in new revenue approved by City Council last month. The district requested money beyond that, though, because it hoped to begin investing in classrooms again after several years of severe cutbacks.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, applauded Wolf’s decision to veto the proposal.

“The General Assembly has failed our children by refusing to restore draconian funding cuts that have left our poorest districts unable to meet the needs of their students,” she said, referring to cuts made under former Gov. Tom Corbett.

Wolf and state lawmakers resumed talks on the budget at 2 p.m. today, the Associated Press reported.

Read the article on

The ABCs of school-funding formulas

Pennsylvania is one of just three states in the country that lack such a formula, a situation that has led, experts say, to the single most inequitable system of allocating education dollars in the nation. But that might change if a proposal by a bipartisan commission created during the Corbett administration is adopted.

Continue reading

Commonwealth Court dismisses school-funding lawsuit

April 21, 2015 – by Solomon Leach, Philadelphia Daily News – COMMONWEALTH Court yesterday dismissed a lawsuit accusing the state of failing to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania public schools.

The complaint was filed by six school districts, seven parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, who said they plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“This is a question of paramount importance to all Pennsylvanians, and we always knew this would ultimately be decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia executive director Jennifer Clarke, a member of the legal team representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The suit, filed in November, argued that former Gov. Tom Corbett, state lawmakers and the state Department of Education violated their constitutional obligation to provide all students with the opportunity to pass state-mandated academic standards. Oral arguments were held last month.

The ruling is the latest in a long line of Pennsylvania state court decisions affirming that school funding is a function of the Legislature and executive branch, and therefore not a matter for the courts.
Since the previous rulings, Pennsylvania adopted the Keystone exams as a graduation requirement and completed a costing-out study setting levels for what each school district needs to provide an adequate education.

Nonetheless, the court’s opinion, written by President Judge Dan Pellegrini, said those changes “do not confer funding discretion upon this court nor provide us with judicially manageable standards for determining whether the General Assembly has discharged its duty under the Constitution.”

Meanwhile, a group of Pennsylvania lawmakers is working to propose a fair-funding formula that would likely provide poorer school districts with a higher percentage of state aid and reduce funding to wealthier districts.

Pennsylvania schools sue state in bid to reform funding

Continue reading

Suit calls state school funding arbitrary and irrational

Nov. 23, 2014 – By Eleanor Chute, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – In 1999, the state Supreme Court ruled that the question of state school funding was a political issue for the Legislature, not one for the judiciary.

Now, a new lawsuit filed in Commonwealth Court last week once again seeks a judicial order, this time armed with state test results showing schools failing to meet state academic standards and a study commissioned by the Legislature quantifying the disparity in resources.

Continue reading

Three NEPA schools challenge funding

Nov. 11, 2014 – By Robert Swift, Scranton Times-Tribune – A Wilkes-Barre mother joined school districts and advocacy groups Monday in a lawsuit calling for an end to sharp inequities in funding for public education throughout Pennsylvania.

Continue reading

Schools suing Pa. Department of Education over funding

Nov. 10, 2014 – By Adam Clark, Allentown Morning Call – Saying Pennsylvania’s new academic standards have given them legal might, six school districts and seven parents are suing the state Department of Education and state officials over what they claim is an “irrational school-funding system.”

Continue reading

School advocates sue Pennsylvania over funding

Nov. 10, 2014 – Peter Jackson, Associated Press – Public school advocates sued top state officials Monday, alleging that an irrational system of distributing state subsidies is creating academic inequities and depriving many students of the “thorough and efficient” public education system that the state constitution guarantees.

Continue reading

Lawsuit: School Funding in Pennsylvania is Unconstitutional

Nov. 10, 2014 – By Patrick Kerkstra, Philadelphia Magazine – Seventeen years ago, the city and School District of Philadelphia filed suit against Pennsylvania, accusing it of failing to provide sufficient education funding in violation of the state Constitution, which obligates the state legislature to “provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.”

Continue reading