Parents, Schools Join Up for Lawsuit Over Pennsylvania Ed Funding

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A lawsuit has been filed by parents and school districts against outgoing Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, state education officials and legislative leaders.

The lawsuit, filed in Commonwealth Court, claims that the state of Pennsylvania is not upholding its constitutional obligation to give children an acceptable education.  According to the plaintiffs, school officials have “adopted an irrational school funding system that does not deliver the essential resources students need and discriminates against children based on where they live and the wealth of their communities.”

Plaintiffs include six sets of parents and the William Penn School District in Delaware County, along with five other school districts, as well as the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP.  They are represented by the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center – PA.

When Governor-elect Tom Wolf takes office, he will become a defendant in the case, along with his education secretary.

Plaintiffs say education leaders give students academic standards to adhere to, but do not provide the resources necessary to do so.

“My child is in classes with too many other students and she has no access to tutoring services or support from paraprofessionals, but our elected officials still expect and require her to pass standardized tests,” Jamela Miller, parent of an 11-year-old child in the William Penn School District, said in a prepared statement. “How are kids supposed to pass the tests required to graduate high school, find a job and contribute to our economy if their schools are starving for resources?” 

Less than half of students across the state have passed the Keystone graduation exams, and many districts contain at least one school that did not meet state standards for the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment.  Targets for the state include having at least 70% of students proficient in state reading tests and 73% proficient in math.

“State officials know exactly what needs to be done, but they refuse to do it,” said Jennifer R. Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia. “We are asking the Court to step in and solve this problem for the future of our children and our Commonwealth.”

In 2006, the state commissioned a “costing out” survey performed by the legislature, which discovered that 95% of school districts in the state needed additional funding, reaching a total amount of $4.4 billion, to meet state standards.

The General Assembly then passed a measure that offered higher funding targets and a new dispersement formula.  However, Governor Tom Corbett abandoned the formula in 2011 when the recession hit, and cut school funding in the state budget.  Although the education budget has increased since that time, classroom funding for many districts is still too low.  Corbett blames the smaller budget to the increasing cost of teacher pensions.

According to Stephen Miskin, spokesman for Speaker of the House, the state is busy creating an education funding commission that will allocate funds in a fair manner.  But to David Lapp, who helped organize the case for the Education Law Center, the move is not enough.

“They’re not looking at what schools actually need,” said Lapp. “They’re only looking at the way to distribute any additional monies that get appropriated.”