Pennsylvania court dismisses suit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s system for funding schools
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that the power to make decisions on school funding rests with the General Assembly and not the courts. As a result, it dismissed a suit brought by a coalition of school districts, parents and education associations. The Commonwealth Court’s decision sets up an appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a lawsuit claiming that Pennsylvania’s funding system fails to meet the state’s obligation to students in poorer school districts.
The coalition’s attorneys argued that the adoption since that time of state academic standards allows the courts to assess whether students are achieving their educational objectives. They have indicated they will appeal the ruling to the state supreme court. “This is a question of paramount importance to all Pennsylvanians, and we always knew this would ultimately be decided by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court,” said Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.
The six school districts, parents of school children, Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and Pennsylvania state conference of the NAACP say the state has violated its constitutional obligation to provide education by sending too little money to schools and by allowing schools in poor communities to operate with less funding per student than do schools in wealthy places. The Commonwealth Court’s opinion stated: “This is a legislative policy determination that has been solely committed to the General Assembly.”
Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, on the other hand, applauded the ruling. He said, “Today’s decision by a unanimous Commonwealth Court validates our position that decisions regarding education funding are fully vested in the Legislature.” Scarnati also warned that an appeal of the ruling would increase the cost of the lawsuit to taxpayers.
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 4/21/15, By Karen Langley
[Editor’s Note: In November 2014, Legal Clips summarized an article in the the Philadelphia Magazine reporting that a coalition of six school districts, the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and parents had filed suit alleging that the state had “adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.” The suit sought to equalize the wide disparities in per pupil spending between affluent and lower-income districts by increasing state funding to financially strapped districts.]