EDUCATION JUSTICE - ELC's National Program April 27, 2015
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On April 21, 2015, the trial court in Pennsylvania, where petitioners filed a lawsuit claiming the state is failing to adequately and equitably fund its public schools, interpreted prior state supreme court precedent as eliminating the courts' role in such a case.

William Penn School District, et al., v. Department of Education, et al., was filed last November by six school districts, seven parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference. The lawsuit alleges that legislative leaders, state education officials, and the Governor violated their constitutional obligation to provide a system of public education that gives all children in Pennsylvania the opportunity to meet state-imposed academic standards and be prepared for life in today's world.

"Contrary to this ruling," said David Sciarra of the Education Law Center (ELC), "the Legislature's curriculum and performance standards do provide clear benchmarks for courts to evaluate whether students have the funding and resources to achieve those standards. It's now up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to open the court house doors to protect at-risk school children across the Commonwealth."

Counsel for the petitioners report that they will file an appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania within thirty days. "This is a question of paramount importance to all Pennsylvanians, and we always knew this would ultimately be decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court," said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP). PILCOP and the Education Law Center-PA (ELC-PA) are representing the petitioners.

"We are disappointed that the Commonwealth Court did not address this claim in any meaningful way" said Maura McInerney, senior staff attorney at ELC-PA. "We believe the Supreme Court will recognize that courts have a clear duty to address these claims. It's not enough to just 'keep the lights on' in our schools, as the State has argued."

"Right now, students across the state are not being properly prepared because their schools have been starved of basic resources like teachers and text books," said Michael Churchill, of PILCOP. "We will continue to argue, on behalf of all Pennsylvanians, that the courts have a role in protecting our state's constitutional right to a thorough and efficient system of public education and that the legislature does not have carte blanche to ignore the funding necessary for students to succeed."

The petitioners represent schoolchildren from across the state including those in rural, urban, and suburban areas. Joseph Bruni, superintendent of the William Penn School District, said, "Our courts and elected officials need to remember that kids do not get a second chance to go to school again after the legislature has figured out whether it will pass a budget that adequately and equitably funds our schools."

Education Law Center Press Contact:

Molly A. Hunter

Education Justice, Director

973-624-1815, x 19

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