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Districts and Parents Appeal Pennsylvania School Funding Ruling

A group of Pennsylvania school districts, parents, and two statewide organizations is appealing a court ruling that dismissed a lawsuit arguing that the state had failed to provide a constitutionally-mandated "thorough and efficient" system of public education for students.

A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court denied the petition last month. The coalition of six school districts, seven parents, the Pennsylvania chapter of the NAACP, and the Pennsylvania Association for Small and Rural Schools appealed that decision on Wednesday, according to the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the Education Law Center-PA., which represent the districts and the parents.

In an April decision, a judge said the issue of adequate funding, William Penn School District, et al., v. Department of Education, et al., was not one for the courts to decide. 

"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 [state] 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" based on precedent," Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini wrote in the April 21 ruling.

The Education Law Center-PA., and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia disagree.

"Our state constitution enshrines the idea that a right to a high quality public education transcends politics," Michael Churchill, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, said Wednesday in a statement announcing the appeal. "That right was built into every state constitution in the country and has been found justiciable by courts in 38 states. This is because all Americans recognize that a good public education is the cornerstone for prosperity and progress."

In the November case filing, the plaintiffs argued that given the funding deficiencies, the legislature, state education officials, and then-Gov. Tom Corbett had failed to provide all of the state's children with the opportunity to meet the standards in the state-mandated curriculum and participate meaningfully in the economic, civic, and social lives in their communities.

The lawsuit accused the state of adopting "irrational and inequitable" school funding arrangements that severely underfund schools across the state. Those arrangements forced a heavy reliance on property taxes. As a result, the per-pupil spending for districts across the state ranged from $9,800 in one district to $28,400 in another.

In addition to the NAACP and the Association for Small and Rural Schools, the plaintiffs include William Penn School District, the Panther Valley School District, the School District of Lancaster, the Greater Johnstown School District, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, and the Shenandoah Valley School District.

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