Court ruling on school funding case positive development

This week the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with a 5-2 vote reversed a decision by a lower court, which threw out the challenge regarding equity in the state's system of funding public schools. The decision now returns the case to Commonwealth Court, whose decision two years ago dismissing it had been unanimous.

The lawsuit, William Penn School District vs. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, was filed in November 2014 by a broad-based coalition of parents, school districts and nonprofit organizations. The plaintiffs include: six school districts — William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley — the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS), and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.

The plaintiffs argued that the state's system of funding public education is so inadequate and unequal that it violates state constitutional provisions requiring a “thorough and efficient system of public education” and equal treatment under the law.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in the William Penn case is a refreshing departure from previous unwillingness to allow judicial review of whether our current school funding system truly lives up to our constitution’s mandate that the General Assembly provide for the maintenance and support of a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education,'” said Nathan Mains, CEO of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association. Pennsylvania now joins the majority of other states with similar constitutional mandates whose courts have considered funding equity challenges.

“But the case is far from over, and it will be quite some time before it will come back to the Supreme Court for a definitive ruling on whether our current school funding approach passes constitutional muster,” Mains continued. “This underscores PSBA’s belief that the most effective way of ensuring that all public schools in Pennsylvania are adequately funded is to work with our General Assembly to address funding inequity, rather than wait for a court to dictate a solution. The decision in this case gives all concerned good reason to work harder and faster to get there.”

Contact: Steve Robinson, 717-506-2450