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PA PARENTS, SCHOOL DISTRICTS URGE COURT TO HEAR SCHOOL FUNDING CASE
School Funding Crisis in PA
Harrisburg, PA -- Parents and school districts challenging Pennsylvania's
school funding system told the state Supreme Court, on November 30, 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 argued that the courts can and must examine claims
the state is violating its constitutional duty to adequately fund "a
thorough and efficient system of public education."
Parents and districts submitted the reply brief as part of their appeal
to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in William Penn School District
vs. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education. The lawsuit, which was filed
in November 2014, claims that the state's system of funding public
education is so inadequate and unequal that it violates the education
and equal protection provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In
April, the Commonwealth Court dismissed the case, relying on older
cases which it believed prevent Pennsylvania courts from considering
school funding issues, thereby leaving such questions solely in the
hands of the political process.
"Without judicial oversight, the legislative process has severely
underfunded schools across the state and our children are paying the
price," said Maura McInerney, senior attorney with the Education Law
Center. "The legislative and executive branches have argued that the
courts are powerless to consider these issues, but we believe the judicial
branch's duty does not disappear merely because education funding issues
are complex and politically charged. In 28 other states court-mandated
reforms have had a direct and positive impact on increasing sustained
education funding and improving academic outcomes."
Parents and districts involved include: seven parents of children
in underfunded public schools, six school districts including 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-Pennsylvania represent
In briefs filed earlier this month, the legislative and executive
branches claimed that all education funding decisions --- no matter
how extreme, irrational, or arbitrary --- should be protected from
"The briefs filed by state officials ask the Court to give the legislature
complete immunity from any judicial review, even as our children suffer
from unequal and underfunded schools," said Jennifer Clarke, executive
director of the Public Interest Law Center. "Even if the political
process finally results in a budget which includes a one-time allocation
of significant funds for this school year, there is no sign that elected
officials will make any attempt to create a funding structure that
will enable students to meet the standards the legislature itself has
established. That is why the courts must step in."
Also, the reply brief highlights substantial changes since the last
school funding case was dismissed in 1999. Those changes assist the
court in evaluating the constitutionality of the current funding scheme,
as they include the adoption of content-based state learning standards,
assessments aligned with the standards, and an educational cost study.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to schedule oral argument
in the case for the first quarter of 2016.
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