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.

Next Tuesday: Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument for Fair Education Funding Suit


Contact:  Barb Grimaldi
(267) 546-1304; (585) 797-9439

Laura Frank
(215) 735-6760

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.

Members of Phila. City Council, education groups to host events to support oral argument

Education advocates are organizing a sing-in and rally to build public support for the oral argument on September 13. Supporters of the lawsuit are invited to participate in the following events.


Sing-In FlierLocation: Dilworth Park | Directions

Time: 2:00-6:00 pm

What: Marching bands, church choirs, community groups and others will perform throughout this afternoon in support of fair funding for public schools.


091316 Fair Funding Suit FlyerLocation: City Hall | Directions

Time: 9:00am-12:00 noon

What: Watch oral argument, and then stay after, as parents, teachers, students, and an array of professionals gather outside of City Hall to testify about the Constitution’s requirement that every child receive a quality, adequately funded public education.


25+ Districts Pass Resolutions Supporting Lawsuit

Our partners at Education Voters of PA have been helping school districts and organizations pass resolutions in support of the school funding lawsuit. Here is the list of districts and organizations that have passed such resolutions to date.


If your district or organization is interested in passing a resolution, our partners at Education Voters of PA have put together a sample resolution and an FAQ about passing such a resolution.  Continue reading

City of Philadelphia Submits Brief in Support of School Funding Lawsuit

The City of Philadelphia filed a “friend of the court” brief on February 16, 2016, in support of our ongoing lawsuit against state officials over the Commonwealth’s broken system of school funding.

Through this amicus brief, the City joins six school districts, parents and associations from across the state in asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to send the case back to Commonwealth Court for a full trial on whether or not the state legislature has violated its constitutional responsibility to maintain and support “a thorough and efficient system of public education.” The brief details how the state’s current funding scheme creates gross disparities between school districts in low and high wealth areas and fails to support poorer school districts like Philadelphia, which have less capacity to raise local revenue.  Continue reading

Parents, school districts urge courts to intervene in school funding crisis


December 1, 2015

Contact:          Barb Grimaldi, Public Interest Law Center, 267-546-1304, bgrimaldi@pilcop.org

Ian Gavigan, Education Law Center-PA, 267-825-7713, igavigan@elc-pa.org

Harrisburg, Pa. –Parents and school districts challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system told the state Supreme Court Monday that it should decide the case on the merits and reject the state’s plea to toss the case because of its complexity and difficulty.  In a reply brief filed Monday the petitioners defended their position that the courts can and must examine claims that the state is failing its constitutional obligations to adequately fund “a thorough and efficient system of public education” in a manner which does not discriminate against low-wealth districts.  Continue reading

Legislature and Governor tell PA Supreme Court it cannot enforce state constitution requiring support of a thorough and efficient system of schools

Harrisburg, Pa. –Attorneys for the state legislature and the executive branch told the Pennsylvania Supreme Court this week that the Court is powerless to decide whether or not the state system of funding public schools violates the state Constitution.

Those statements came in briefs supporting the Commonwealth Court’s dismissal of William Penn School District vs. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, a lawsuit claiming that the state’s system of funding public education is so inadequate and unequal that it violates state constitutional provisions requiring a “thorough and efficient system of public education” and equal treatment under the law. The suit was filed a year ago by seven parents of children in underfunded public schools across Pennsylvania, six school districts including 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. The Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania are representing these petitioners.

Executive Branch Appellees’ Brief

Legislative Branch Appellees’ Brief

Continue reading

Parents, School Districts Ask PA Supreme Court to Hear School Funding Lawsuit, 9/18/15

September 21, 2015

Maura McInerney, Education Law Center-PA, 215-346-6906, 610-331-8125, mmcinerney@elc-pa.org
Jennifer Clarke, Public Interest Law Center, 215-870-3797, jclarke@pilcop.org

Parents, School Districts Ask Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Hear School Funding Lawsuit

Harrisburg, Pa. – In a brief filed Friday, public school parents, school districts, and two statewide associations continued their legal challenge of Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system, telling the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the availability of a high-quality public education in Pennsylvania will continue to be a “function of community wealth rather than a constitutional guarantee” unless the Court agrees to hear the legal challenge.

The petitioners are asking the court to send the case to a full trial and allow them to present evidence that the state legislature has failed to adequately and equitably fund the state’s public schools, thereby violating the legislature’s constitutional requirement to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education” and to prohibit discrimination in state programs and services.

The brief filed today advances the appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, following the Commonwealth Court’s decision last April to dismiss the William Penn School District, et al., v. Department of Education, et al. case. In their filing, parents and schools districts contend that the Commonwealth Court erred in dismissing the lawsuit against legislative leaders and state education officials on grounds that it presents a political question that cannot be addressed through the court system. Yet, courts in the vast majority of other states with similar constitutional provisions have ruled that such claims must be heard. Decades of inequitable school funding have weakened schools that serve the most vulnerable students and continue to put the state’s poorest children at a great disadvantage relative to their more affluent peers in better-funded schools.

“Pennsylvania’s constitution guarantees to all children a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education’ and equal protection under the law. Students in poor school districts are denied these rights by an irrational, unpredictable school finance scheme that is overly reliant on local property taxes and deprives students of the basic resources they need to meet state academic standards.” said Maura McInerney, senior attorney at the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania. “The legislature claims that as long as it keeps school doors open and lights on, it has met its constitutional obligation and that the courts have no role to play in interpreting the constitution. It is now up to the Supreme Court to address this unconscionable claim.  Our state constitution is clear: the court cannot close its doors to the children of Pennsylvania.”

William Penn School District, et al. was brought last November by seven parents, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS), the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, and six school districts from urban, rural, and suburban communities, including William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley.

“We are asking Pennsylvania courts to exercise their weighty responsibility to ensure that state officials abide by Constitutional commands, just as courts in many other states have done.,” said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center. “We hope that this Supreme Court will step up because the disparities between wealthy and poor school districts in Pennsylvania are the greatest in the country, with the wealthiest school districts spending 33% more per-pupil than the poorest. All Pennsylvanians will benefit if the Court acts to ensure a quality education is available to all students.”

The full brief can be viewed here: William Penn vs PDE Sup Court Brief