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United Way of Lancaster County


Plaintiffs, including SDL, prevail in ‘fair funding’ education lawsuit

Advocates for education funding reform rally at the Capitol in Harrisburg on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. (Source: Power Interfaith)

The inequities that result from Pennsylvania’s school funding system are unconstitutional, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court judge has ruled.

“Petitioners and students attending low-wealth districts are being deprived of equal protection of law,” President Judge Renee Cohn Jubilerer wrote in an order at the conclusion of a 786-page opinion issued Tuesday.

Jubilerer did not prescribe a remedy, instead recommending that state government’s executive and legislative branches work with the petitioners in the lawsuit “to devise a plan to address the constitutional deficiencies identified herein.”

Among the petitioners is the School District of Lancaster. It was one of six school districts that filed the suit in 2014, joined by advocacy groups and parents.

As WHYY reports, the trial began in November 2021 and lasted four months. The parties then made additional filings. Since then, it has been about six months.

It is widely agreed that the case has major implications for Pennsylvania’s educational system. The defendants — the state Board of Education, the governor and the leaders of the Department of Education, the House and the Senate — are expected to appeal, with the final decision resting with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania and the Public Interest Law Center, which represented the plaintiffs, issued a joint statement celebrating the decision and calling on the state legislature to reform education funding.

“Today’s decision declaring Pennsylvania’s school funding system unconstitutional is a historic victory for Pennsylvania’s public school children,” they said.

“It will change the future for millions of families, so that children are no longer denied the education they deserve. … It’s time for our state legislature to fund public schools in every corner of Pennsylvania so all students, whether or not they live in a wealthy community, can receive the quality public education guaranteed in our state constitution.”

In a statement, Gov. Josh Shapiro said, “Creating real opportunity for our children begins in our schools, and I believe every child in Pennsylvania should have access to a high-quality education and safe learning environment, regardless of their zip code. My administration is in the process of thoroughly reviewing the Commonwealth Court’s opinion and we are determining next steps.” 

State Sen. Majority Leader Joe Pittman said his caucus, too, was reviewing the decision.

“The Senate Republican caucus is committed to prioritizing education empowerment and access for students across Pennsylvania, as is evidenced by a historic level of investment in public education included in the current 2022-23 and prior state budgets. Our system has always sought to support state and local taxpayers, whom we will continue to respect moving forward as we address all needs of the Commonwealth,” Pittman said.

Messages seeking comment from the School District of Lancaster were not immediately returned Tuesday evening.

(Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to add comment from Gov. Shapiro and Rep. Pittman.)