March 2018: Back to court in Philadelphia

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will hear oral argument March 7 in a landmark lawsuit challenging inequitable and inadequate school funding in Pennsylvania. Our attorneys will ask the Court to reject remaining preliminary objections and a motion to dismiss asserted by the legislature so that the case can proceed directly and promptly to trial. The argument will be heard by the court en banc, meaning that the entire panel of judges will be present for the argument in Philadelphia.

Petitioners in William Penn School District et al. v. PA Department of Education et al., which include seven families, six school districts from rural, urban and suburban areas, and statewide organizations, filed the lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania state officials for violating the state’s constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund public education. Since the Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling that overturned an earlier dismissal by Commonwealth Court, two legislative leaders, Senator Scarnati and Representative Turzai, have tried to dismiss the case or further delay trial. Senator Scarnati argues that the case is moot, and Representative Turzai argues that petitioners have failed to state an equal protection claim, asserting that education is not an important or fundamental right.

“The right to education is an important right,” said attorney Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center. “The legislative leaders must stop trampling on that right and start respecting it. None of the objections presented to the Court have merit, and while they waste time, students’ futures are at stake.”

“Time is of the essence. Pennsylvania’s school children are suffering due to the lack of state support,” added Maura McInerney, legal director at the Education Law Center. “Every day the legislature delays fulfilling its constitutional obligation is a day in which hundreds of thousands of students across the Commonwealth remain in grossly underfunded schools. They need more resources right now, not years from now.”

The lack of adequate state support for education in Pennsylvania is glaring. Pennsylvania ranks 47th out of 50 states, according to US census data, in the portion of education spending that is covered by state funds. Billions more dollars would be needed, according to research conducted by the Public Interest Law Center, to ensure a “thorough and efficient” system of public education across the state, as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution.

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