Are Pennsylvania state government officials required by the Pennsylvania Constitution to fund public schools equitably?
13 June, 2021 by
Thomas W. Bailey
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Background:  This case was first filed in 2014 and is going to trial within the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in September, 2021.   It is one of the only educator cases I have summarized that is not yet finalized.

 I am cutting and pasting text from the Education Law Center (ELC) website in this summary and placing them within quotation marks.  The ELC is one of the two organizations that is representing the plaintiffs in this case.  I am not involved in this litigation.

 Seven public school districts, parents of current and former public school students and two statewide, non-profit organizations are the plaintiffs:

 •”Six school districts: William Penn School District, the School District of Lancaster, Panther Valley School District, Greater Johnstown School District, Shenandoah Valley School District, and Wilkes-Barre Area School District. All of these districts have a high proportion of children in poverty and are unable to raise enough money through local property taxes to make up for the lack of adequate state funding.”

•”The Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, a group of approximately 150 small and rural school districts and 13 Intermediate Units across PA.”

•”The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons, Pennsylvania State Conference, an organization dedicated to ensuring the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and eliminating race-based discrimination.”

•”Families whose children attend under-funded and under-resourced schools in the Philadelphia, William Penn, Greater Johnstown, and Wilkes-Barre school districts.”

 The current defendants are the leaders of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Senate, Governor Wolfe, the Secretary of the Department of Education and the State Board of Education.

 Trial Issues before the Commonwealth Court:   First issue is do defendants have “a legal obligation under the PA Constitution to ‘provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education’ for all students”?

 The second issue involves plaintiffs’ claim that “the current method of funding has resulted in significant resource disparities that discriminate against students living in districts with low property values and incomes. This irrational funding disparity violates the Equal Protection provisions in our state constitution because children in low-wealth districts are being denied the opportunity to receive an adequate education, while their peers in high-wealth districts are receiving a high-quality education.”

 

Relief sought by Plaintiffs:

“(1) Declare that the current system of funding our schools does not comply with the state constitution; and

(2) Order the defendants to cease using a funding system that does not provide adequate funding for all students and which discriminates against low-wealth districts; and

(3) Order the defendants to create and maintain a constitutional school funding system that will enable all students to meet state academic standards and does not discriminate against low-wealth school districts.”

 For more information  Contact the Public Interest Law Center , Education Law Center of Pennsylvania or Fund Our Schools Pa .  6-13-2021

 

William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al. (Pa Commonwealth Court, 2018) opinion not reported.

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