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Monday, November 10, 2014

Going to Court.

Pennsylvania’s system is neither adequate, nor equitable; thorough, nor efficient

Going to court.

Today, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP) and Education Law Center- PA filed a lawsuit on behalf of individuals, school districts and organizations, making the complaint that the funding system in Pennsylvania is not only wrong, it violates the Constitution. Around the state, our schools have not received adequate and equitable funding to meet our children's educational needs.  But our Constitution says “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.” 

The state government is breaking its own law and our kids are suffering.

So, a lawsuit is being filed to try to force the state to fix the way it funds schools. 
Specifically, the complaint is asking the court to:
“(1) Declare that the current system of funding our schools does not comply with the state constitution; and
(2) Order the defendants to cease using a funding system that does not provide adequate funding where students can meet state standards and which discriminates against low wealth districts.
(3) Order the defendants to create and maintain a constitutional school funding system that will enable all students to meet state academic standards and does not discriminate against low-wealth school districts.” (From an FAQ by the law centers).

We know Pennsylvania’s funding system is broken. Fair school funding relies on two basic pillars: adequacy, which means that there is enough money to give all children the instruction and support they need to learn and equity, which means that they system distributes money is such a way as to give all children equal access to opportunities.

Pennsylvania’s system is neither adequate, nor equitable; thorough, nor efficient

These problems existed prior to the budget cuts in recent years, although those cuts have highlighted the starkness of how thin the margins are for some districts, and the breadth of the problem – how many districts are challenged because of Pennsylvania’s flawed system of funding.  It is also true that our funding system has a racial bias.

There are three basic pillars for school funding, what we have called a sensible approach to funding schools: it must be based on what students are expected to learn, which means the instruction and support that they need to do it; fiscally responsible principles including the use of updated data, stable and predictable funding, fair local and state share (including reducing the pressure on property taxes) and it must meet any test of fairness and legality (meet the Constitutional requirement; provide for every child, end the practice of distributing funding based on political clout). 

The courts must act and rule in favor of the plaintiffs – it must declare what is happening is legally wrong and join the demand for a just remedy so every child in PA has an opportunity to learn.

But the courts alone will not solve this problem.  It will require all of us.

·       The legislature must act – utilizing its own Basic Education Funding Commission; the recommendations of last year’s Special Education Funding Commission and the data it has available to it to develop a new approach to allocating funding.
·       Our new Governor-elect, Tom Wolf, must act. He must propose a budget that meets the needs of the Commonwealth and he must put together a Department of Education that is resolved to work on this.

And, the public must continue to act - we must continue to send the message that we will hold them all accountable – not just the Governor -- for producing policy that is sensible and fair to all.

We must fix Pennsylvania’s ability to provide every child with a good public education.

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