The proposal from the bipartisan commission charged with developing a remedy for the state’s unconstitutional school funding system sets targets for adequate funding in every school district, based on student need and current spending in successful districts. In the proposal, adopted Jan. 11, 2024, commissioners acknowledge a total funding shortfall statewide of $5.4 billion and propose to close that shortfall incrementally over seven years. It is now up to the General Assembly and governor to adopt a budget and implementation plan.
Read our joint statement with our co-counsel, the Public Interest Law Center.
Legislative leaders announced an agreement on July 7, 2022, on the 2022-23 state budget, including a $525 million increase in state funding for basic education, $225 million for a Level Up supplement to the 100 most deeply underfunded school districts, a $100 million increase in special education funding, and $200 million in grants to school districts for mental health and school safety.
Attorneys from Education Law Center-PA and the Public Interest Law Center, representing school districts, parents, and organizations in a case challenging Pennsylvania’s system for funding public schools, released a joint statement, calling the increased education funding “an important step to start closing funding gaps,” but noting that “it does not ensure that students in every community can receive the high-quality education they’re entitled to under the state Constitution.”
Read the statement here.
The June 21, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin mandates that Maine use its public school funds to educate children in private religious schools. Never before has the Supreme Court forced a state to fund religious education. The ruling is antithetical to our country’s history and its long-held commitment to a separation between church and state embedded in our federal and state constitutions. It also has important and potentially devasting implications for Pennsylvania’s students.
Pennsylvania’s public schools serve the vast majority of the Commonwealth’s children. Public schools, unlike private religious schools, are prohibited from excluding children or discriminating against students and they are also held accountable for their use of public funds. While tax credits in Pennsylvania are permitted to be used to support private religious schools, public school funds are not, and this is prohibited by our state Constitution. The Supreme Court ruling is a threat to that public school system in many ways. Read more.
Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr wrote, “All Pennsylvanians need to know that our state is failing by inadequately and inequitably funding our schools. Pennsylvania once made a legislative commitment that 50% of education funding would come from the state ‒ but that commitment was not enforced and was abandoned decades ago.” Read her full op-ed published in Pennlive on November 5, 2021.
Learn more about our case here.
“Over more than four weeks of testimony, the landmark trial in the challenge to Pennsylvania’s school-funding system has featured superintendents and teachers from rural, urban, and suburban communities describing cash-strapped schools — including Delaware County’s William Penn district — that struggle to meet state academic standards.” Read this recap from the Philadelphia Inquirer’s education reporters.
An episode of Smart Talk from WITF (Harrisburg) reviews the status of the school funding court case with guests Mallory Falk, WHYY Philadelphia education reporter; Brenda Marrero, executive director, Public Interest Law Center; and Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director, Education Law Center – PA.
Testimony in the Pennsylvania public education funding lawsuit highlighted serious issues facing schools around the Commonwealth. “Witnesses painted a grim picture of what a normal school day looks like for many students throughout Pennsylvania, and how the COVID-19 pandemic made things worse.” Issues dealing with infrastructure like classroom space and capacity, ventilation systems, and more were detailed. Read and watch this report from WENY (Erie).
In 2014, a group of school districts, parents, and advocates embarked on a legal journey that could upend the way Pennsylvania funds its schools. Those petitioners head to court in Harrisburg on Nov. 12. “William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al. — colloquially referred to as Pennsylvania’s school funding lawsuit — is among the more complicated and consequential legal fights in state history.” Read and listen to this report from WHYY.
Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr wrote about the unconstitutionality of Pennsylvania’s current school funding system, and the funding lawsuit in Commonwealth Court where trial is scheduled to start November 2021.
USA Today reporter Alia Wong analyzes two neighboring Pennsylvania school districts and finds that the schools are funded based on the community’s local wealth, leaving one community at a huge disadvantage.
Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr wrote about the history of school funding lawsuits that have been filed in dozens of states besides Pennsylvania. “We see from the experience of other states that school funding lawsuits have been strikingly successful at moving the needle toward fairness,” she wrote. “Decisions in such lawsuits spur more state revenue for schools, resulting in better academic and life outcomes for children.” Read her full column from the public interest page of the Sept. 20, 2021, Legal Intelligencer.
Public school students in Pennsylvania will soon have their day in court. A Commonwealth Court judge has scheduled a trial start date of October 12, 2021, in our historic lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system, William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al.
Attorneys expect the trial in Harrisburg to last through much of the fall. A final pretrial conference was scheduled for Sept. 29. Read our press release about the trial and the judge’s order.
To stay abreast of the case, go to the Fund Our Schools PA website, a joint project of the Education Law Center and our co-counsel, the Public Interest Law Center. For case documents, go to our Cases page.
There is a new start date for the trial in our historic lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system. The date is moved back a month to Oct.12.
The later date allow superintendents and other petitioners who filed the case against state officials additional time to provide up-to-date specifics to supplement the evidence and testimony gathered during earlier stages of the litigation.
Read coverage of the lawsuit and the impending trial from the Times Leader here.
Education Law Center, along with a coalition of more than a dozen education advocacy organizations from across the commonwealth, has launched a campaign to increase state funding for the 100 most underfunded school districts in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has some of the nation’s widest gaps between wealthy and poor school districts.
The focus is legislation introduced on April 14, 2020, by Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Allentown) to create a new funding stream targeted at the most underfunded districts. Read the press release.
Public school students in Pennsylvania will soon have their day in court. A Commonwealth Court order released April 1 tentatively scheduled a trial start date of September 9, 2021, in a historic lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system. [Note: The trial start date was ultimately pushed back to Nov. 12.]
Attorneys expect the trial to last several weeks. The trial dates will be set at a pretrial conference on June 21, the order said. Read the press release here.
In a ruling March 8 by Commonwealth Court, a judge held that two Pennsylvania parents who were among those who filed the landmark lawsuit in 2014 challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system as unconstitutional will be able to pursue their claims, even though their children have now graduated from high school. The ruling is a victory for parent petitioners Tracey Hughes of Wilkes-Barre and Sheila Armstrong of Philadelphia. The court also set a May 20 scheduling conference to determine a trial date for the case later this year.
Read our press release.
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.
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.
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.
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.