Calling the issue a matter of “great public importance,” a judge has ruled parents challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s school-funding system are entitled to their day in court.
The lawsuit claims the state’s heavy reliance on local property taxes to fund public education means children in low-income districts go without the educational resources they need.
Pennsylvania ranks 44th nationally in state share of funding for public schools.
Maura McInerney, legal director at the Education Law Center, said the ruling means all plaintiffs in the suit, including those whose children have graduated from high school since the case was filed in 2014, can continue to pursue their case.
“They’ll be able to present their own evidence and their perspective in our case, as well as to be a part of the remedy that would be fashioned by the court,” McInerney explained.
Sen. Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, a defendant in the case, had argued two parents’ claims should be dismissed because their children are no longer in public schools.
But McInerney pointed out inequitable funding means students in low-wealth districts are missing out on educational opportunities kids in wealthier districts take for granted; opportunities that have consequences well beyond graduation.
“It denies them meaningful employment and participation in our global economy, and it upends their dreams and their aspirations which children hold throughout the Commonwealth,” McInerney contended.
She added kids in poorer districts often are taught in overcrowded classrooms, share old textbooks and may not get tutoring, after-school and music programs, counselors or librarians.
McInerney believes the ruling sends a clear message to state lawmakers that they cannot ignore their obligation to provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education.
“This is one of the few areas that they are required to fund and to prioritize, as is made clear under our education clause in the Pennsylvania Constitution,” McInerney concluded.
The Education Law Center and its co-counsel, the Public Interest Law Center, will return to court with the other parties in the suit on May 20 to determine the trial schedule.