Writing on behalf of the state's schoolchildren in a letter to Gov. Corbett dated March 14, 2013, the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia were joined by Education Voters PA, Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY), the Pennsylvania League of Urban Schools (PLUS), and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) in pointing out that "the basic educational needs of Pennsylvania's children are not being met."
They urge the Governor and the General Assembly to address the fact that the state's "underfunding is now so significant that the Commonwealth is failing to fulfill its constitutional obligation to maintain a 'thorough and efficient system of public education.'" They also explain that "the large funding gaps between public schools in wealthy communities and those in high-poverty rural and urban communities are additional evidence of the failure to meet the 'thorough and efficient' mandate." They declare that "Pennsylvania currently has districts that are able to spend only one third of the resources of the best-funded districts."
"Public education is a value that has been woven into the fabric of Pennsylvania since its beginning. Education was then, and remains now, the foundation on which a strong democracy is based," said Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia Executive Director Jennifer Clarke.
"A system that fails to provide for the academic success of its students is not just an academic problem," said Education Law Center Executive Director Rhonda Brownstein. "Today's students are tomorrow's workers, citizens and taxpayers. To the extent we fail them today, Pennsylvania's communities will fail in the future."
Despite the constitutional mandate that the legislature maintain a thorough and efficient system of public education, the state funding system provides less than 75 percent of the funding necessary for Pennsylvania's students to meet the state's own academic standards, according to the letter.
"This unfair and inadequate system of state funding for education has a significant impact on children. This is especially true for schools in our least wealthy communities. The recent cuts to state funding have made it necessary to reduce or eliminate altogether programs essential to the academic success of students," said Scranton School District Superintendent and PLUS President Bill King.
As a consequence, the groups add, many students are denied the fundamental right to an adequate education that meets the academic standards set by the state.
"This is an important issue to the public, and they know this is a basic responsibility that isn't being met. They are definitely watching to see what the legislature is going to do this year," said Education Voters Pennsylvania Executive Director Susan Gobreski.
The groups note the Commonwealth's failure to move towards closing the funding gaps between the high-needs school districts and wealthier districts, which have fewer costly students. Since 2011 the state has adopted education budgets that actually expand these gaps. The largest cuts in state funding have been disproportionately imposed on the highest needs districts, they write.
The letter recommends the Governor and General Assembly adopt "a system of public education that secures the adequate and equitable funding of Pennsylvania's schools based on a rationally based formula that addresses the needs of students. "