U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Carson v. Makin Has Alarming Implications for PA

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.

On school funding, Pennsylvania is not doing its job. That’s why we’re in court.

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.

5 takeaways from Pennsylvania’s ongoing, landmark school-funding trial after one month

“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.


Pa. school funding case update

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.

“Storage Closets and Locker Rooms Being Used as Classrooms”

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).

School funding in Pa. is about to go on trial — here’s what you need to know

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.


School Funding Lawsuits Move the Needle on Fairness

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.

Judge Sets Oct. 12 Start Date for Trial in Historic Pa. School Funding Lawsuit

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.

Historic school funding trial date moved to Oct. 12

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.

Level Up: A Campaign to Boost 100 Severely Underfunded PA School Districts

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.

Tentative Trial Date Is Set in Pennsylvania School Funding Lawsuit

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.

Funding Lawsuit Moves Closer to Trial with Ruling That Parents Will Remain in Case

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.

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