Funding Increases in PA Budget Are Welcomed but Not Sufficient, ELC Says

The tentative budget agreement between Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf and legislative leaders that was announced on June 24 includes a significant boost in special education funding. There are other bright spots in the budget, but state education funding still falls far below what is needed. ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr issued a statement on the budget on June 25, 2019.

Read the statement.

ELC Responds to 2019-20 Budget Proposal of Gov. Wolf

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced his proposed 2019-20 budget before the General Assembly on Feb. 5. The Education Law Center and other child advocacy groups had urged the governor to make a bold school funding proposal, including $400 million in new funds for basic education and $100 million for special education. The increases in is K-12 spending plan, which will be debated by the legislature over the next few months, were roughly half of what advocates had called for, though the governor did also propose significant increases in funding for pre-K and early intervention.

ELC issued a statement on the budget proposal, urging Harrisburg officials “to do more to accelerate state aid to the state’s most disadvantaged school districts.” The statewide PA Schools Work coalition, of which ELC is a member, also published a statement raising many of the same themes.

Trial in Pa. School Funding Lawsuit Scheduled for Summer 2020

In a breakthrough for efforts to fix Pa.’s broken school funding system, Commonwealth Court
has set a schedule for hearing the facts in William Penn et al. v. PA Dept. of Ed. et al.

December 6, 2018 – Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court released on Thursday a briefing and trial scheduling order in the lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding system. The trial is tentatively set to begin in summer 2020. Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer issued the order and will oversee the pre-trial proceedings.
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Testimony: Philadelphia City Council Hearing on the Philadelphia School District and Board of Education

At the first Philadelphia City Council hearing since schools came under the tenure of the city’s new board of education, ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley gave testimony on November 27, highlighting the centrality of resource issues for the school district. “The fact that Philadelphia schools simply don’t have enough resources is in part a Harrisburg problem, but it’s one that we locally can play a bigger role in affecting,” she said.

Staley noted that meeting the educational needs of the district’s most underserved students – including English learners and pregnant and parenting teens – will require “significant funding commitments from the Mayor and Council as well as policy and practice changes within the district.”

Read our testimony.

Editorial: New school year, old funding problem

An editorial in the Delaware County Daily Times says that it is time to fix the problems of inadequacy and inequity in school funding that led the William Penn School District and other districts, organizations and families to mount a court challenge to the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s school funding system. Continue reading

School funding lawsuit can proceed, judge rules

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.

In victory for students, Court rules that Pa. school funding lawsuit is not moot

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

August 21, 2018

Contact: Paul Socolar, Education Law Center, 215-906-1250, [email protected]

Jonathan McJunkin, Public Interest Law Center, 267-546-1305, [email protected] 

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 ruled Tuesday 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’ brief 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.

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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.

State leaders respond to ‘moot’ claim in education funding lawsuit

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.

Opposition Brief to Mootness Application Filed in School Funding Case

Funding gaps between high-wealth and low-wealth districts are growing, and state funding for classroom expenses has declined over four years. Those are key points in our latest brief in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case filed by parents, school districts, and two statewide associations challenging Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system. In May, the Court directed the parties to address the issue of whether the state’s adoption of an education funding formula in 2016 renders the case moot. Our brief, filed July 6, 2018, refutes that argument made by respondent Senator Scarnati. Affidavits detail the difficult conditions in our petitioners’ school districts, making clear that the state’s funding system has not been fixed.  There’s more information in the News Release, and you can read the case documents here.

Pennsylvania’s New Budget: For Education, Barely a Start

Pennsylvania has an on-time budget for 2018-19, approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Wolf on June 22. It provides modest but needed new funding for Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren. While the additional dollars for schools help, this budget increase provides only a small fraction of what is needed for an adequately and equitably funded statewide public education system. The heavy lifting is still needed as urgently as ever to address shortfalls in school funding across the state. Read more here.

Commonwealth Court Holds Oral Argument in ELC’s Funding Case

Not even a snowstorm could halt the momentum of ELC’s Fair Funding Lawsuit, as advocates from ELC, PILC, and pro bono counsel O’Melveny and Myers argued today that objections filed by the defendants were without merit and should be dismissed, allowing the case to move to discovery and trial.  Details, including links to news coverage of the oral arguments, are here.

Pennsylvania’s Landmark School Funding Lawsuit Heads Back to Court

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will hear oral arguments next Wednesday in a landmark lawsuit challenging inequitable and inadequate school funding in Pennsylvania. Attorneys from the Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center will ask the Court to reject remaining preliminary objections and a motion to dismiss asserted by the legislature so that the case can proceed directly and promptly to trial.  Read the News Release here.