Today we argued before a panel of five Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judges that all our children have an important legal right to a quality public education – and that we can no longer accept our state legislature’s failure to provide the “thorough and efficient” system of public education guaranteed by Pennsylvania’s Constitution.
Despite a snow emergency in effect, dozens of supporters of fair and adequate school funding filled the courtroom and sent a strong message that this is an urgent issue for school children across the Commonwealth.
The Education Law Center, together with the Public Interest Law Center and O’Melveny & Myers (OMM), represents six school districts, seven families, the NAACP of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools in a constitutional challenge to the state’s inadequate and inequitable school funding system. Our case was filed more than three years ago and was initially dismissed by Commonwealth Court. But last fall, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with us that the court has a clear duty to hear the case and sent it back to Commonwealth Court for trial. Our argument today responded to objections from legislative leaders who, based on meritless arguments, seek to dismiss the case altogether or reject certain claims.
Their objections were ably rebutted by our colleague, attorney Brad Elias of OMM, who made a powerful case that our lawsuit must proceed to trial. Legislative leaders argued in part that the case has been resolved by the adoption of a funding formula. But the formula only applies to 2% of all education funds. As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court previously acknowledged, the measure has done little to change the overall school funding scheme we challenge.
Judge Wojcik succinctly noted this morning: “You’re basically saying that they're rearranging the deck chairs, and what we need is a bigger boat.” We agree.
Representative Turzai argued that Pennsylvania’s enormous disparities between rich and low-wealth school districts are justified by the principle of local control. But this is a red herring: The paucity of state funding deprives schools of basic resources -- books, technology, adequate staffing, and facilities -- stripping school districts of meaningful local control. Distributing funds in a more equitable way increases rather than diminishes such control.
We are grateful to our parent and school district representatives as well as fellow advocates who braved the elements to attend today’s oral argument and the press conference that followed. We are hopeful that the Court will render a decision that advances our case to trial. Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren cannot afford to wait. We will keep you posted on any developments in this critical case. Thank you for your support!
Read coverage of the oral argument