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Advocates Heading to Court Over School Funding

Schools in poor districts may lack basics such as adequate computer labs. (Tomasz_Mikolajczyk/
Schools in poor districts may lack basics such as adequate computer labs. (Tomasz_Mikolajczyk/
August 2, 2016

PHILADELPHIA - A lawsuit claiming that state school funding levels violate the state constitution is set to go to court next month. Pennsylvania has the most inequitable school-funding system in the entire country. Although passage of the fair funding formula and a modest increase in state funding for this coming school year is a step in the right direction, advocates say it isn't enough.

According to attorney Michael Churchill, with the Public Interest Law Center, they looked at the standards set by the formula, and what poor districts need now to meet them.

"We just applied the median statewide average costs that are currently being spent and it comes out to $3.1 billion that is needed in additional state funding," he said.

The lawsuit was filed almost two years ago. Next month the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments to determine whether the courts can intervene and hold the Legislature accountable.

Jamella Miller is a parent and a plaintiff in the suit. Her oldest daughter went to a school that had adequate funding, but her younger children now attend school in a poorer district. And she said the differences are glaring.

"One of the most striking examples was computer labs," she said. "We are currently in the age of computers where everything is computerized, everything is based off of advanced technology and our current school district does not have that."

After years of cuts to education, the system still relies on property taxes for much of school funding. And Churchill said poor districts simply can't make up the difference.

"Even though they have much higher tax rates than many of the wealthy districts, they can't afford to put in the basics that their children need to meet Pennsylvania standards," he said.

Churchill said even if they win in court, it still will be up to the Legislature to raise the funds and get them to the schools to achieve the state's educational goals.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA