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.

ELC Applauds Gov. Wolf’s Education Budget Proposals, but PA Still Has Far to Go.

Education Law Center Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr applauded Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed increases in funding for basic education, special education, early education, and career and technical education in his Feb. 6 budget address. But the state still has far to go, she said in a press statement, to achieve an adequate and equitable funding system. Read the statement here.

Governor Wolf Withdraws Objections And Agrees School Funding Lawsuit Should Move Forward Swiftly

In a January 25 court filing, Governor Wolf, on behalf of Pennsylvania’s Executive Branch, dropped all previous objections and requested that the Commonwealth Court move our fair funding case forward.  Legislative respondents continue to oppose the case moving forward; Senator Scarnati filed a brief blaming poor school districts for their own underfunding.  Read the joint news release by ELC and the Public Interest Law Center here.

Pa. Supreme Court Delivers Major Victory for Schoolchildren across the Commonwealth in School Funding Case

On September 28, 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.

“Judicial review stands as a bulwark against unconstitutional or otherwise illegal actions by the two political branches,” Justice David N. Wecht wrote in his majority opinion. “It is fair neither to the people of the Commonwealth nor the General Assembly itself to expect that body to police its own fulfillment of its constitutional mandate.”

“Today’s ruling ensures that our schoolchildren across Pennsylvania will finally have their day in court,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of Education Law Center – PA, which brought the suit along with the Public Interest Law Center and pro bono counsel from O’Melveny & Myers LLP. “We look forward to presenting extensive evidence proving that decades of underfunding and inequity in our public education system violate Pennsylvania’s Constitution.”

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s landmark decision today vindicates the principle that adequate and fair school funding is a constitutional mandate, not a political issue,” said Michael Churchill, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Center. “Now that the court has ruled that education funding is subject to judicial review, we hope the Governor and legislature will work with us and our partners to bring Pennsylvania into constitutional compliance by ensuring that every school has adequate resources.”

“We are gratified by the Supreme Court’s decision and the opportunity to take this case to trial, and we hope it will be a turning point for Pennsylvania’s public education system,” said Brad Elias, an attorney with O’Melveny & Myers who serves as pro bono counsel for the petitioners. “Our goal is to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have equal access to a thorough and efficient education, and this decision brings us one step closer to achieving that.”

The case now heads back to Commonwealth Court for a full trial, which will permit advocates to present evidence proving their claims. Lawyers on the case will ask the court to expedite the trial, given the importance of the case.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court dismissed the case in 2015, relying on an older Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision and saying that education funding was not subject to judicial review. Today the state’s highest court reversed that decision, and overruled that earlier precedent, agreeing with advocates that school children and school districts must be able to seek relief from the Courts to protect their rights to a quality education.

“Judicial oversight must be commensurate with the priority reflected in the fact that for centuries our charter has featured some form of educational mandate,” Justice Wecht wrote. “Otherwise, it is all but inevitable that the obligation to support and maintain a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education’ will jostle on equal terms with non-constitutional considerations that the people deemed unworthy of embodying in their Constitution. We cannot avoid our responsibility to monitor the General Assembly’s efforts in service of its mandate and to measure those effects against the constitutional imperative, ensuring that non-constitutional considerations never prevail over that mandate.”

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 Pennsylvania State Conference.

“Today’s ruling represents a major victory for civil rights across Pennsylvania,” said Pennsylvania NAACP President Dr. Joan Duvall-Flynn. “For too long, access to a quality education has been limited to those who live in the right ZIP code, leading to vast disparities that disproportionately impact African-American and Latino families. This decision presents an opportunity to dismantle barriers that prevent children of color from getting the education they need to succeed in the 21st century economy.”

“While our children struggle in schools without adequate technology, dedicated arts, music, library or physical education teachers, students several miles away attend school in modern buildings with the latest course offerings,” said Jamella and Bryant Miller, public school parents who live in Landsdowne and who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The court’s decision means that it’s time for our elected officials to address these devastating disparities by providing the funding our schools require to provide a quality education to our children.”

Given the dire situation many schools face, lawyers on the case will work to bring it to trial as soon as possible. Many schools have yet to recover from the drastic funding cuts of 2011 and still lack basic resources, including updated textbooks, modern curricula and school counselors. Compounding this issue, only 6 percent of the state’s education budget is being distributed through the basic education funding formula, which was adopted by the legislature in 2015 in an attempt to distribute funds based on actual student needs. Finally, modest investments in education over the past few years remain inadequate and the legislature has abandoned setting any goal for adequate funding.

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

Education Law Center Statement on the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s Proposed 2017-18 State Budget

June 30, 2017

PHILADELPHIA, PA – Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, released the following statement today in response to the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s proposed 2017-18 state budget:

“The Pennsylvania General Assembly has sent Governor Tom Wolf a compromise state budget agreement that provides some needed new funding for education, including basic education, special education, and early education. Specifically, the bill includes $100 million increase for basic education funding, $25 million increase in special education, $30 million in additional funding for early education, and a $19 million increase in funding for early intervention services for children ages birth-five. Our schools and students sorely need these resources now and the Education Law Center urges Governor Wolf to sign the budget into law. Continue reading

Education Law Center releases new PA school funding report highlighting racial and class inequities

State needs to both increase funding levels and distribute dollars more fairly

March 7 2017 – As the General Assembly debates Pennsylvania’s education budget for next year, the Education Law Center released a report today highlighting how persistent state underfunding of schools has entrenched widespread inequities and inequalities, particularly in schools that serve lower-income families and large numbers of students of color.  Continue reading

Education Law Center Statement on Governor Tom Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Address

Feb. 7, 2017
Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, issued this statement following Governor Tom Wolf’s budget address today:
“Governor Wolf’s proposed increase in state funding for basic, special, and early education in next year’s budget is welcome given the Commonwealth’s difficult budget situation. His proposal to increase early education funding by $75 million and to allocate additional funding to early intervention services represent crucial investments that will help ensure more children enter school ready to learn. But while any additional funding helps, the Governor’s proposed increase of $100 million in basic education and $25 million in special education funding will not be enough to allow schools to close longstanding resource gaps. Our schools currently face a $3 billion adequacy gap. And Pennsylvania ranks 46th in terms of state share of K-12 education funding and has the largest gap in the nation between what our poorest and wealthiest districts receive. Continued educational investments are key to the Commonwealth’s long-term economic competitiveness. We must build off recent successes, including modest increases to basic education funding and the adoption of a fair funding formula to equitably distribute new educational investments to the districts and students who need help the most. We will continue to work with the Governor and the General Assembly to ensure that the budget reflects Pennsylvanians’ priorities and the needs of our students.”
 

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The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, 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 https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

English learners caught in competition for funding

Oct. 20, 2016 – The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – by Bill Hangley, Jr.

This year brought some good news for Katie Christ.

“I finally got textbooks!”

That’s a welcome addition to Christ’s high school classroom in Delaware County’s William Penn School District, where she’s taught students who are learning English for 11 years.

But new textbooks are just the start of what she needs for her English learner (EL) classes. For other needed materials – novels and short stories, online language instruction, computers, snacks –  she’ll keep doing what she’s always done: find freebies on the internet, borrow from the English or history departments, raise private donations, or pay from her own pocket.

“I don’t mind spending the money when I see the outcomes,” said Christ, who estimates she spends $1,000 of her own money a year and raises about $3,000 more online.

One online source of funds is a website where donors can give to classroom projects. “Without Donors Choose, I wouldn’t be able to do what I want to do,” she said.

And when it comes to the bigger things that only her district can provide – like more staff to support students, more time in the school day to collaborate, or a fully stocked computer cart – she’ll cross her fingers and hope for a better budget next year.

“I only have two computers in the classroom. One of them’s mine,” Christ said. “I had a computer cart, but they couldn’t handle the new updates. They were old when I first got them.”

Read the rest of the article at the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument for Fair Education Funding Lawsuit

The suit, filed in 2014, claims the Commonwealth is violating its constitutional duty to “support and maintain” a “thorough and efficient system of public education”

PHILADELPHIA – September 13, 2016 – Oral argument in William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. commenced before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court at Philadelphia City Hall on September 13. Hundreds of parents, students, superintendents, and school board members, including advocates from as far away as Erie and Pittsburgh, crowded the halls of Philadelphia City Hall and waited in line to attend the argument.

The case was filed in 2014 against the governor and legislative leaders in response to decades of underfunding by Harrisburg that has deprived children of the resources they need to succeed.

The attorney for the petitioners delivered a powerful argument urging the state’s highest court to permit judicial review of the state’s failures to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Education Clause and Equal Protection provision. Specifically, the petitioners challenged that years of underfunding by the state legislature are in direct violation of the Education Clause’s language to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”

Two attorneys representing the legislature and Governor argued that the courts have no role in ensuring that children in Pennsylvania have access to an adequate education and that the courts have no responsibility to enforce the state constitution.

“The legislature continues to abdicate its constitutional responsibilities year after year by drastically underfunding our public schools,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “Today we asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to give us the opportunity to make the case for our public schools in court. We asked the court to protect and enforce our Constitution.”

“Pennsylvania’s current education funding system is unconstitutional. Right now, a child’s ZIP code determines whether or not he or she will have access to basic school resources like text books and computers,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel for the Public Interest Law Center. “The disparities between well funded and poorly funded districts are greater in Pennsylvania than any other state in the country.  The courts need to tell the legislature to end this inequity.”

Attorneys for the petitioners are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to permit a full trial on the merits of the case, reversing a 2015 Commonwealth Court decision that dismissed the case. This will allow the petitioners to present evidence that the General Assembly has violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools and leaving children without the resources they need to succeed academically. The petitioners that brought the case include seven parents, six school districts – William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley – the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.  The Public Interest Law Center and Education Law Center-PA are representing the petitioners.

Following the hearing, a large, spirited rally took place on the north side of City Hall.  Speakers and attendees included State Senator Vincent Hughes, representatives from the parent and school district petitioners, Councilwoman Helen Gym, clergy from Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), advocates from Education Voters of PA and the NAACP, and attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center-PA.

While Pennsylvania recently adopted a school funding formula – which the attorneys for the plaintiffs acknowledge is a step in the right direction – only 6% of the state’s basic education dollars are driven out through that formula and state education funding levels overall remain wholly inadequate to meet the needs of students.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision of the appeal sometime after the oral argument, although there is no specific deadline.

More information, including case documents, can be found here: http://edfundinglawsuit.wordpress.com/

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The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, 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 https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

The Public Interest Law Center uses high-impact legal strategies to improve the well-being and life prospects of vulnerable people by ensuring they have access to fundamental resources including a high-quality public education, health care, employment, housing, safe and healthy neighborhoods and the right to vote. For more information visit www.pubintlaw.org or follow on Twitter @PubIntLawCtr.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument for Fair Education Funding Suit

The suit, filed in 2014, claims the Commonwealth is violating its constitutional duty to “support and maintain” a “thorough and efficient system of public education”

PHILADELPHIA – September 8, 2016 – Oral argument in William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. will commence before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court at Philadelphia’s City Hall on September 13th at 9 AM.  The Public Interest Law Center and Education Law Center-PA, representing the plaintiffs, will ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to permit a full trial on the merits of the case, reversing a 2015 Commonwealth Court decision that dismissed the case. This would allow the plaintiffs to present evidence that the state General Assembly has violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools and leaving children without the resources they need to succeed academically.

Following the hearing, a rally and press conference in support of the lawsuit will take place on the North Side of City Hall, at 10:30 AM.  Speakers and attendees will include representatives from the parent and school district plaintiffs, Councilwoman Helen Gym, clergy from Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), advocates from Education Voters of PA and the NAACP, and attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center-PA.

The case was filed in 2014 against the governor and legislative leaders in response to decades of underfunding by Harrisburg that has deprived children of the resources they need to succeed. The plaintiffs that brought the case include seven parents, six school districts – William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley – the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.

“Pennsylvania’s public school children are entitled to have their day in court. The Legislature’s failure to ‘support and maintain’ a thorough and efficient system of public education has resulted in Pennsylvania having the widest disparity between high-wealth and low-wealth school districts of anywhere in the nation,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “Our children can no longer wait. Court enforcement of our Constitution is the only way that all children in Pennsylvania will receive the sustained investment they need to learn – regardless of where they live or what school they attend.”

“Upholding the Constitution is the highest duty of our judiciary, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will step in where the General Assembly has failed,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel for the Public Interest Law Center. “Our inadequate funding system shortchanges students by leaving them without the most basic resources they deserve. We have the opportunity with this lawsuit to require the legislature to finally address this longstanding problem.”

In the absence of judicial oversight, the Commonwealth has underfunded rural, suburban, and urban schools across the state for many years, resulting in the nation’s highest disparity between wealthy and poor districts. According to the petition filed by the plaintiffs, the General Assembly has adopted state standards that define the academic content children must learn, but has failed to provide the funding necessary to give students an opportunity to meet those standards. As a result, many students in underfunded schools struggle academically and fail to meet state standards.

While Pennsylvania recently adopted a school funding formula – which the attorneys for the plaintiffs acknowledge is a step in the right direction – only a small fraction of education dollars will be driven through that formula and state education funding levels overall remain wholly inadequate to meet the needs of students.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision of the appeal sometime after the oral argument.

More information, including case documents, can be found here: http://edfundinglawsuit.wordpress.com/

# # #

The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, 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 https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

The Public Interest Law Center uses high-impact legal strategies to improve the well-being and life prospects of vulnerable people by ensuring they have access to fundamental resources including a high-quality public education, health care, employment, housing, safe and healthy neighborhoods and the right to vote. For more information visit www.pubintlaw.org or follow on Twitter @PubIntLawCtr.