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How can our children be prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st-century economy when they attend schools with outdated textbooks and overcrowded classrooms?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

 

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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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