Pennsylvania Court Denies Education Funding Lawsuit Review


The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has thrown out a review of a lawsuit against the Department of Education, claiming it involved political questions that do not belong in a courtroom.

The lawsuit was filed by a number of the poorest school districts in the state last November.  The group is suing the Department of Education as well as former Governor Tom Corbett.

Attorneys for the school district argued in March that education funding in the state is too low, with plaintiffs charging that it is unconstitutional.  They went on to say that the amount of funding available is not enough to provide a sufficient education for all the students in the state.

Lawyers for the Department of Education claimed that while the state does provide an education system, it is up to individual districts to create additional taxes to increase funding, reports Evan Grossman  for Watchdog.  However, schools say this is not fair to low-income districts.

The schools added that it is state testing that sets requirements for students in the state, including a new requirement asking students to pass certain exams in order to graduate, so it is up to the state to provide enough funding for those standards to be met, reports Katie Kyros for Fox 43.

While the full court heard their argument, in the end they decided that it is up to the legislature to decide if there is enough funding available in the state, not the justice system.  The court cited a 1999 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that ended a similar lawsuit brought on by the Philadelphia School District in their ruling.

“This Court can no more determine what level of annual funding would be sufficient for each student in each district in the statewide system to achieve the required proficiencies than the Supreme Court was able to determine what constitutes an ‘adequate’ education or what level of funding would be ‘adequate’ for each student in such a system in Marrero II or Danson. This is a legislative policy determination14 that has been solely committed to the General Assembly under Article 3, Section 14.”

The decision came as a disappointment for advocates of a change to the way the state funds its public schools.  The group is planning an appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Jennifer Clarke, an attorney for the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and one of the attorneys representing the schools, said the decision is an opportunity because the higher court will have more freedom to consider arguments made.  The Commonwealth Court is restricted by previous decisions made by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, public education has been a hot topic in Pennsylvania.  Governor Tom Wolf recently proposed an increase in funding in addition to massive tax hikes in order to support additional spending.