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Parents, School Districts Ask Court to Decide Lawsuit

A lawsuit claims Pennsylvania's school funding system is unconstitutional. Credit: ludi/
A lawsuit claims Pennsylvania's school funding system is unconstitutional. Credit: ludi/
December 3, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Education advocates are asking the state Supreme Court to hear their challenge to the state's school funding system. The state has filed papers asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit filed a year ago by parents and school districts.

Briefs from the legislature and the governor's office say school funding decisions are not a matter for judicial review.

Maura McInerney, senior staff attorney at the Education Law Center, disagrees.

"It's clearly not a political question and in fact a majority of states have considered these school funding cases and have rejected arguments that it presents a political question," says McInerney.

The lawsuit says the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund schools, and the current funding system violates the constitution's equal-protection clause.

Pennsylvania has the widest gap between funding for rich and poor school districts of any state in the nation. In past lawsuits, the court has said it couldn't decide if funding was adequate to meet educational standards because there was no way to assess whether students were meeting those standards.

McInerney says that's no longer the case.

"In 2015 it's clear that we do have judicially manageable standards," says McInerney. "We have mechanisms to assess how children are doing in school, what their academic outcomes are."

McInerney also points to a state study conducted in 2007 that found school funding fell far short of being adequate to meet academic standards set by the Legislature.

If the court determines the state has failed to meet its constitutional obligations, then McInerney believes it must order the state to adopt a system that will fulfill that mandate.

"A system that will maintain and adequately support public education across the Commonwealth," she says. "A system based on student need that would adequately fund all students to meet state standards."

The Supreme Court is expected to schedule oral arguments in the case in 2016.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA