Oral Argument Recap

On Tuesday, September 13, 2016, school districts, parents and advocates stood before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and urged the court to get involved in reviewing the state’s education funding system. Hundreds of people from across the state of Pennsylvania waited in line at Philadelphia’s City Hall to fill up the Supreme Court room, an overflow court room and then some.

If you were not able to view the oral argument this past Tuesday, you can watch a recorded version on PCN this Friday, September 16, at 1 p.m.


Students rally outside Philadelphia City Hall on September 13, 2016.

The question before the court was simple: do Pennsylvania families and school districts get their day in court to prove our system of education funding is inadequate, inequitable, and unconstitutional? Or, should courts leave such matters to the political process? The seven justices of the state’s highest court were very engaged in the argument. They asked counsel for the petitioners, Brad Elias, what they envision as possible remedies for Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system and what the court’s role might look like in crafting and monitoring potential fixes. They asked the state if there were any circumstances under which the Education Clause of the state constitution could be enforced by the courts.

The legal team following oral argument on September 13, 2016.

The legal team, which includes the Education Law Center-PA, the Public Interest Law Center and pro bono counsel, argued that the judiciary’s highest responsibility is to uphold the state constitution, which clearly states that Pennsylvania must provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” There is no question that the state has failed to provide for that system. For example,at a rally following the argument, Susan Spicka, executive director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania told this story: a local university professor in south central Pennsylvania recently remarked that his incoming freshmen do not know what a library is because they never had access to one in their public schools.

Attorneys for the state (including John Knorr, Office of Pa. Attorney Generaland Patrick Northern, Dilworth Paxson) argued that a child has no individual right to an education and that the courts should not get involved in protecting our children’s rights. But it is clear that when schools are without basic resources like libraries, text books, computers, teachers, guidance counselors, and too many other resources to name, there is no thorough and efficient system and that the court must get involved.

The Pa. Supreme Court will issue an opinion sometime after the argument. There is no deadline. If the petitioners win, they will go forward to a trial before a judge of the Commonwealth Court, at which time they will have to provide evidence, such as witness testimony, that proves that Pennsylvania’s school funding system is broken. If they win at that round, they will ask the court to tell the legislature to create a better system of funding which complies with the constitution, but it will initially be up to the legislature to make the decisions how to fix the system. If the Petitioners lose it is the end of the case, and people who believe more funding is necessary will need to convince the legislature to provide it.


Here is a listing of news coverage of the argument.

High court hears education-funding case in Philly — Philadelphia Inquirer, September 14, 2016

Pa. Supreme Court considers diving into school funding debate at jam-packed hearing — Newsworks/WHYY, September 13, 2016

Voters drive real reform — The Times-Tribune, September 15, 2016

Will PA’s Supreme Court Justices Be Just? — Philly’s 7th Ward, September 14, 2016

Editorial: Fair funding still elusive goal in Pa. education — Delaware County Times, September 14, 2016

Pa. Supreme Court hears arguments in Pa. education funding suit — Delaware County Times, September 14, 2016

State high court hears school funding challenge — The Citizens’ Voice, September 14, 2016

Education reformers press Pa. Supreme Court to act on funding inequities — Associated Press, September 13, 2016

Advocates encouraged by school funding hearings before state Supreme Court — Times Leader, September 13, 2016

Debate Heats Up In Philly: Should School Funding Be Decided In The Courts — CBS Philly, September 13, 2016

State Supreme Court hears arguments that school funding is unfair — The Notebook, September 13, 2016

Pennsylvania High Court Hears School Funding Challenge — 6ABC, September 13, 2016

School funding goes before state’s highest court in Philly today — Metro, September 13, 2016

Pa. Supreme Court to consider school funding challenges — Associated Press, September 13, 2016

Before state Supreme Court weighs in, a rally for education funding — Philadelphia Inquirer, September 13, 2016

Pa. Supreme Court hears education funding case today — Delaware County Times, September 13, 2016

Fight for Funding Pa. Public Schools Headed to Court — 6ABC, September 12, 2016

Concert to support fair funding lawsuit takes over Dilworth Park — The Notebook, September 12, 2016

Pennsylvania’s education funding case: Here’s what you need to know — Newsworks/WHYY, September 12, 2016

Rural students deserve their fair share of school funding: Joe Bard and Karen Jez — Penn Live, September 12, 2016

Pass Or Fail? Pa. Supreme Court To Hear School Funding Lawsuit — CBS Philly, September 12, 2016

State Supreme Court to hear school funding lawsuit — The Morning Call, September 12, 2016

Commentary: Why we sued over our daughter’s education — Philadelphia Inquirer, September 12, 2016

Can Courts Determine if General Assembly is Doing its Job? — Public News Service, September 12, 2016

Erie schools leader supports lawsuit seeking funding reform — GoErie.com, September 11, 2016

Close the opportunity gap in Pennsylvania — Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 11, 2016

State Supreme Court to hear school funding lawsuit — Philadelphia Tribune, September 10, 2016

School funding lawsuit set for hearing Tuesday — The Notebook, September 9, 2016

State high court to hear arguments in funding lawsuit that includes W-B Area — Wilkes Barre Times-Leader, September 8, 2016


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