The public schools enroll 1,755,000 students: 69% White, 15% African American, 9% Latino, and 3% Asian, with 43% living in poverty, and 3% learning English. The State spends $13,445 per pupil. (Most recent NCES data)
“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” Pa. Const. art. 3, § 14.
“No money raised for the support of the public schools of the Commonwealth shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.” Pa. Const. art. 3, § 15.
“[T]he General Assembly shall not pass any local or special law: 1. Regulating the affairs of counties, cities, townships, wards, boroughs or school districts.” Pa. Const. art. 3, § 32.
In 1979, in Danson v. Casey, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that this case, alleging that the State school funding system violated the constitution’s education article because it allocated inadequate funds, was non-justiciable.
In 1998, in Pennsylvania Ass’n of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) v. Ridge, the trial court dismissed plaintiffs’ adequacy and equity claims as non-justiciable, and in Marrero v. Commonwealth, an appellate court held that the claims of inadequate funding and inadequate education were non-justiciable.
In 2016, in William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to hear plaintiffs’ appeal of the trial court ruling that found the claims of inadequate and inequitable educational opportunity and funding non-justiciable. A decision is expected in 2017.
As a remedy for the alleged constitutional violations, the William Penn lawsuit asks the courts to declare the current funding system unconstitutional and require the Commonwealth to establish adequate and equitable funding that enables school districts to provide all students the opportunity to meet state academic standards and prepare to participate in the economic, civic, and social activities of society.
Since the courts in Pennsylvania refused to hear education finance lawsuits, advocates turned to other strategies to improve public education. Good Schools Pennsylvania, Education Law Center-PA, and the Education Policy and Leadership Center worked together and partnered with the state's education organizations, community-based organizations, and others to mobilize citizens for fair funding and better schools. Their actions ranged from vigils led by the faith-based community to dissemintating research and information to advocates and policymakers. This coalition successfully asked the legislature to: conduct an education cost study, released in 2007; enact a school funding system based on the study, passed in 2008; and, continue funding the system, in 2009 and 2010.