FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Barb Grimaldi
(267) 546-1304; (585) 797-9439
The suit, filed in 2014, claims the Commonwealth is violating its constitutional duty to “support and maintain” a “thorough and efficient system of public education”
PHILADELPHIA – [September 8, 2016] – Oral argument in William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. will commence before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court at Philadelphia’s City Hall on September 13th at 9 AM. The Public Interest Law Center and Education Law Center-PA, representing the plaintiffs, will ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to permit a full trial on the merits of the case, reversing a 2015 Commonwealth Court decision that dismissed the case. This would allow the plaintiffs to present evidence that the state General Assembly has violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools and leaving children without the resources they need to succeed academically.
Following the hearing, a rally and press conference in support of the lawsuit will take place on the North Side of City Hall, at 10:30 AM. Speakers and attendees will include representatives from the parent and school district plaintiffs, Councilwoman Helen Gym, clergy from Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), advocates from Education Voters of PA and the NAACP, and attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center-PA.
The case was filed in 2014 against the governor and legislative leaders in response to decades of underfunding by Harrisburg that has deprived children of the resources they need to succeed. The plaintiffs that brought the case include seven parents, six school districts – 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.
“Pennsylvania’s public school children are entitled to have their day in court. The Legislature’s failure to ‘support and maintain’ a thorough and efficient system of public education has resulted in Pennsylvania having the widest disparity between high-wealth and low-wealth school districts of anywhere in the nation,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “Our children can no longer wait. Court enforcement of our Constitution is the only way that all children in Pennsylvania will receive the sustained investment they need to learn – regardless of where they live or what school they attend.”
“Upholding the Constitution is the highest duty of our judiciary, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will step in where the General Assembly has failed,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel for the Public Interest Law Center. “Our inadequate funding system shortchanges students by leaving them without the most basic resources they deserve. We have the opportunity with this lawsuit to require the legislature to finally address this longstanding problem.”
In the absence of judicial oversight, the Commonwealth has underfunded rural, suburban, and urban schools across the state for many years, resulting in the nation’s highest disparity between wealthy and poor districts. According to the petition filed by the plaintiffs, the General Assembly has adopted state standards that define the academic content children must learn, but has failed to provide the funding necessary to give students an opportunity to meet those standards. As a result, many students in underfunded schools struggle academically and fail to meet state standards.
While Pennsylvania recently adopted a school funding formula – which the attorneys for the plaintiffs acknowledge is a step in the right direction – only a small fraction of education dollars will be driven through that formula and state education funding levels overall remain wholly inadequate to meet the needs of students.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision of the appeal sometime after the oral argument.