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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Orders School Funding Trial

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has reinstated a lawsuit that argues that the state's school-funding system violates the state's constitution.

The ruling, which restores a lawsuit first filed by the William Penn schools, could set the stage for a complete overhaul of the state's educational landscape, attorneys for the plaintiffs say.  But any effects wouldn't be immediate; the decision merely overturns a Commonwealth Court ruling and sends the case back to trial court.

The list of plaintiffs includes six school systems, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.

Lawyers for the districts have maintained that the state's adoption of academic standards, not in place when prior funding lawsuits were dismissed, meant it had a responsibility to provide adequate funding to meet them.

The majority opinion by Justice David Wecht issued Thursday argues the courts should evaluate whether the constitutional promise of providing a thorough and efficient education is being met and determine if the lawsuit's allegations that poorer districts are shortchanged has merit.

"It just brings tears to my eyes that we're allowed to go further with this," Superintendent Jane Harbert of the William Penn schools told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "We're fighting a battle not just for William Penn but for the whole state of Pennsylvania."

Advocates for small and rural districts have long fought to change the state's school-funding system, which allows for wide spending gaps between low- and high-income districts.

"Today's ruling ensures that our schoolchildren across Pennsylvania will finally have their day in court," Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of Education Law Center-PA said in a prepared statement. "We look forward to presenting extensive evidence proving that decades of underfunding and inequity in our public education system violate Pennsylvania's Constitution."

The Education Law Center, the Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center, and pro bono counsel represented the plaintiffs in the case.

   2017 09 28 William Penn Opinion by corey_c_mitchell on Scribd

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