PA Supreme Court sets argument date for fair education funding lawsuit

June 16, 2016

Harrisburg, Pa.—The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it will hear oral argument for Pennsylvania’s landmark education funding lawsuit on September 13, 2016, in its Philadelphia courtroom.

The lawsuit, William Penn School District vs. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, seeks to remedy decades of inequitable education funding that have robbed children of the resources they need to succeed. It argues that the state’s system of funding public education is so inadequate and unequal that it violates state constitutional provisions requiring a “thorough and efficient system of public education” and equal treatment under the law.

The suit was filed in November 2014 by a broad-based coalition of parents, school districts and non-profit organizations that have seen firsthand the devastating impact of these failures in classrooms and in children’s lives. The plaintiffs include: 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 the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania are representing these plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to permit a full trial in this case by reversing a 2015 Commonwealth Court decision that dismissed the case as raising a political question. This reversal 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.

“We are pleased that the Court will hear argument in September on the need to enforce the Constitution’s requirement that every child receive a quality, adequately funded, public education. Our inadequate, inequitable funding system leaves children without the most basic resources they deserve, and that they need to become productive members of society,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel for the Public Interest Law Center.

“After years of insufficient funding for our classrooms, protracted stalemates and in the absence of any method for linking school spending to state standards, court enforcement of the constitution is the only way we can guarantee that all children in Pennsylvania will have adequate resources to learn regardless of where they live and what school they attend,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “We are confident that the courts will step in where the General Assembly has failed and begin upholding this important constitutional requirement.”

In the absence of judicial oversight, the Commonwealth has underfunded rural, suburban, and urban schools all over the state for many years. 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, 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 funding remains wholly inadequate to meet the needs of students.

If the plaintiffs win at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the case will return to the Commonwealth Court for a full trial on the merits.

All case documents can be viewed here: https://edfundinglawsuit.wordpress.com/

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The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania works to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education, including poor children, children of color, children with disabilities, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, English language learners, and other vulnerable children. For more information visit www.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 populations by ensuring they have access to fundamental resources including a high-quality public education, access to 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.

Contact:

Barb Grimaldi, Public Interest Law Center, 267-546-1304, [email protected]

Anthony Campisi, Education Law Center, 215-735-6760 [email protected]

 

Opinion: Allow trial on school funding

Feb. 17 – philly.com – By Gaetan J. Alfano, Deborah R. Gross, and Mary F. Platt

Pennsylvania’s business community has watched with growing concern as our commonwealth’s schools have fallen deeper and deeper into crisis over the last several years. In the wake of drastic funding cuts, school districts across our state have been forced to lay off thousands of teachers while cutting Advanced Placement classes, art, music, and extracurricular opportunities and losing crucial support staff like guidance counselors and nurses.

The state’s school-funding situation is now so dire that many schools aren’t even able to offer the curriculum and supports that are mandated by law. In too many schools, overstretched teachers struggle every day to deliver even the most basic education. The result has been plummeting test scores and lost opportunities for thousands of children – especially poorer children and children of color, whose schools are disproportionately affected by budget cuts.

Money can’t solve every problem, but adequate resources are a necessary ingredient for student success.

As attorneys who work with some of our state’s largest corporate citizens, we know firsthand that investment in our education system makes economic sense. An educated workforce is key to effectively competing in the global economy, and great schools are crucial to convincing businesses to remain or locate in Pennsylvania.

While local governments have increased taxes to try to make up for a lack of funding at the state level, in the end only Harrisburg can marshal the resources needed to ensure that all children have access to a quality public education. The current budget stalemate in Harrisburg underlines just how ineffective our political branches of government have been at meeting this important obligation to our children.

How can our children be prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st-century economy when they attend schools with outdated textbooks and overcrowded classrooms?

Fortunately, the state constitution provides another path out of the gridlock for Pennsylvania’s children: It expressly requires the legislature to “support and maintain” a “thorough and efficient” system of public education to support our children and “serve the needs of the commonwealth.”

Six school districts, seven families, and organizations representing additional districts and parents, all of whom have seen the impact of continued disinvestment in our schools, are suing the commonwealth and asking the courts to ensure that state government finally lives up to its constitutional obligations. The plaintiffs come from large urban districts like Philadelphia and struggling rural districts like Panther Valley in Schuylkill and Carbon Counties, demonstrating that chronic underfunding affects students across Pennsylvania. They are being represented by education advocacy groups, including the Education Law Center, that recognize that the constitutional rights of Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren can no longer be subject to the whims of the political process.

The case, which cuts to the heart of the inadequacy and inequities that plague our education system, has been moving through our judicial system since 2014. It is now pending before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, presenting the justices with a historic opportunity to enforce this important constitutional provision, which can ensure critical opportunities for Pennsylvania’s children.

A favorable ruling would permit a full trial on the merits of this case, allowing advocates and the commonwealth to present evidence on the state of our education system and giving the courts an opportunity to fully examine whether Pennsylvania provides the thorough and efficient school system guaranteed by the constitution.

Even in the unlikely event that legislative leaders approve the full education funding increases proposed by Gov. Wolf last week, we need a long-term and sustained commitment to education that extends beyond any one budget proposal or administration. It has taken years to dig ourselves into this hole. A one-year fix isn’t enough to reverse the long-standing inequities that prevent children from achieving their full potential.

A trial is the best hope for the thousands of children across our commonwealth to obtain access to the quality education to which they are entitled. Protecting the rights of children is one of the most sacred duties entrusted to the judiciary. Appellate courts in a majority of states have already made similar rulings on behalf of their states’ children.

Enforcement of our constitution has been a key function of the judiciary ever since our nation’s founding. We hope that our state judiciary assumes its rightful place as the guarantor of one of our most important constitutional protections by allowing a full trial on the merits of this very important case.

Gaetan J. Alfano ( [email protected]), Deborah R. Gross ( [email protected]),and Mary F. Platt ( [email protected]) respectively serve as chancellor, chancellor-elect, and vice chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/opinion/20160217_Allow_trial_on_school_funding.html#toWQvMverZC3PaI7.99

Parents, school districts urge courts to intervene in school funding crisis

December 1, 2015

Parents, school districts urge courts to intervene in school funding crisis

Harrisburg, Pa. –Parents and school districts challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system told the state Supreme Court Monday that it should decide the case on the merits and reject the state’s plea to toss the case because of its complexity and difficulty. In a reply brief filed Monday the petitioners defended their position that the courts can and must examine claims that the state is failing its constitutional obligations to adequately fund “a thorough and efficient system of public education” in a manner which does not discriminate against low-wealth districts. Continue reading

Release: Legislature and Governor tell Supreme Court it cannot enforce state constitution requiring support of a thorough and efficient system of schools

November 6, 2015

 

Legislature and Governor tell PA Supreme Court it cannot enforce state constitution requiring support of a thorough and efficient system of schools

Harrisburg, Pa. –Attorneys for the state legislature and the executive branch told the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week that the Court is powerless to decide whether or not the state system of funding public schools violates the state Constitution. Continue reading

School-funding suit headed for highest Pa. court

May 20, 2015 – Kristen A. Graham, The Philadelphia Inquirer – Contending that Pennsylvania’s method of school funding is broken, lawyers representing a group of parents, school districts, and statewide associations are taking their case to the state’s high court, they said in court papers filed Wednesday.

 

Continue reading

School Districts, Parents Take School Funding Challenge to State’s Highest Court

Harrisburg, Pa. –Today school districts, parents and two statewide associations filed an appeal in Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging last month’s Commonwealth Court decision, which dismissed a lawsuit contesting the state’s failure to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The state Supreme Court is obligated to hear the appeal. 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.

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20150422_Commonwealth_Court_dismisses_school-funding_lawsuit.html#oLJoAGAH8KUEuRi3.99

Suit challenging school funding headed to top Pa. court

April 21, 2015 – by Kristen A. Graham and Martha Woodall, Philadelphia Inquirer – A lawsuit contending that Pennsylvania’s system of school funding is broken will move to the state’s top court, attorneys vowed Tuesday after a lower court dismissed the case brought by school districts, parents, and advocates. Continue reading

School Funding Case One Step Closer to Hearing by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Commonwealth Court Refuses to Review Whether School Funding Complies with State Constitution

Harrisburg, Pa. – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania today issued an order in the lawsuit challenging the state’s failure to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools.  The lower court interpreted prior state Supreme Court precedent as eliminating any role for the courts in overseeing whether the legislature complies with the state constitution on school funding questions. Continue reading

PA Districts Sue State Over Inequitable School Funding

March 18th, 2015 – National Opportunity to Learn Campaign – While Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the state legislature argue over his proposed budget increase for education, some districts and parents are taking another route to fight for increased funding for their schools: the courts.

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