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

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

September 21, 2015

Contact:
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

School Districts, Parents Take School Funding Challenge to State’s Highest Court

On May 20th, school districts, parents and two statewide associations filed an appeal in Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging last month’s Commonwealth Court decision, which dismissed a lawsuit contesting the state’s failure to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The state Supreme Court is obligated to hear the appeal.  Continue reading

School Funding Case One Step Closer to Hearing by Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Commonwealth Court Refuses to Review Whether School Funding Complies with State Constitution

Harrisburg, Pa. – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania today issued an order in the lawsuit challenging the state’s failure to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools.  The lower court interpreted prior state Supreme Court precedent as eliminating any role for the courts in overseeing whether the legislature complies with the state constitution on school funding questions.  Continue reading

City Council passes resolution supporting school funding lawsuit

Council of the City of Philadelphia

RESOLUTION

Supporting the clients and their lawyers, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center – Pennsylvania, in their suit to enforce Pennsylvania’s constitutional guarantee of “a thorough and efficient system of public education,” and urging the Pennsylvania General Assembly to provide a fair and predictable formula funded by adequate revenues that reflects the Commonwealth’s values.

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