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Court Ruling Advances School Funding Lawsuit

The 2016 school funding formula only applies to funding increases, about 2 percent of the state education budget. (KokomoCole/Pixabay)
The 2016 school funding formula only applies to funding increases, about 2 percent of the state education budget. (KokomoCole/Pixabay)
May 9, 2018

HARRISBURG, Pa. – A lawsuit challenging the level and distribution of state funding for public education in Pennsylvania has moved a step closer to trial.

On Monday, a panel of Commonwealth Court judges overruled several preliminary objections to the lawsuit, including one that claimed the petitioners hadn't established that the current funding plan had caused the harm that is the basis for the suit.

Maura McInerney, legal director at the Education Law Center, calls the ruling a clear victory for public school children in Pennsylvania by allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

"It's extremely important because it addresses both the inadequacy of school funding as well as the inequity that we see across the Commonwealth," she states.

The court ordered further discovery on two remaining objections raised by opponents of the suit before it can proceed to trial.

State legislative leaders maintain that education is not an important or fundamental right under the state's constitution.

But McInerney says virtually anyone in the state except those legislators would concede that education is an important right.

"It is one of the only services that is singled out in our state constitution which requires it to be adequately funded,” she points out. “In addition, it is critical to participation in democracy as well as determining the life trajectories of students."

The court overruled the legislators' objection but allowed for further discovery on the issue.

The court also ordered the petitioners to address Sen. Joe Scarnati's (R-Jefferson) claim that adoption of a new education funding formula in 2016 fixed the school funding problem.

McInerney counters that the formula only applies to 2 percent of school funding.

"School children across the state continue to suffer extraordinary harm due to severe underfunding and gross inequalities, from overcrowded schools to crumbling buildings to understaffing and outdated textbooks," she states.

McInerney says once the constitutional and school funding formula questions have been resolved, the case will be scheduled for trial.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA