February 26, 2024 5:35 am
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PA Now Tasked with Public-School Funding Revamp

Credit: iStock

Danielle Smith

It’s been two weeks since a Commonwealth Court judge ruled Pennsylvania’s system of funding public schools is unconstitutional and must be revamped.

Backers of the ruling are looking toward Gov. Josh Shapiro’s new budget, expected March 7, to address the steps his administration will be taking to move toward compliance with the court decision.

Kristina Moon, senior staff attorney for the Education Law Center, called the victory “historic” for the petitioners: six school districts, parents, the NAACP of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools.

Moon said the judge wrote a “strong” decision, which is 786 pages long.

“The judge found that education is a fundamental right and spelled out, for the first time, what kind of education is required by the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Moon explained. “‘All students must have access to a comprehensive, effective and contemporary system of public education, so that every student has a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically.’ “

Moon noted the court ordered the governor and General Assembly to come up with a plan to ensure access, as well as adequate funding. The Commonwealth’s K-12 system serves more than 1.7 million students.

In the case, which lasted eight years, Moon pointed out the decision means some validation for all the parents and educators who’ve been saying for years not enough money was being provided for resources for their students.

“They’ve been now validated by the court to say, ‘You’re right, this is not fair.’ And it’s in fact unconstitutional to not have enough funding from the state to be able to provide students what they need,” Moon asserted.

Moon emphasized the judge took into consideration the challenges faced by underfunded school districts, and the wide gaps in graduation rates, standardized test scores, and opportunities between low and high-wealth districts. The ruling also referenced the current funding system — which relies heavily on local property taxes — as disproportionately affecting students in low-wealth districts.

“She noted that these gaps widened even further into unjustifiable disparities for students who are Black, Latino, economically disadvantaged and English learners,” Moon observed. “The court concluded that every child can learn, and money does matter.”

Moon added in hundreds of pages of testimony and evidence from the trial, the judge found students in underfunded districts can overcome challenges if they have access to the right resources, which wealthier districts have been able to provide.

Disclosure: The Education Law Center contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, Children’s Issues, Education, Human Rights/Racial Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

References:  

Statement Education Law Center 02/07/2023
Ruling Commonwealth Court of Pa. 02/07/2023
Funding data EducationData.org 2023

This story was written by Danielle Smith, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.

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