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PA school funding is unconstitutional

By Elizabeth Perry


Pennsylvania’s lawmakers will not appeal the judge’s decision stating that commonwealth schools are unfairly funded and in violation of the state constitution.

Fontana

The deadline to appeal was Friday, July 21 at midnight, making the Feb. 7 decision final. With legislative leaders deciding not to appeal, the decision is now final according to a statement by the Public Interest Law Center.


“I think many of us breathed a sigh of relief this week. Every lawmaker in the Commonwealth knows there is a school funding issue,” Sto-Rox Superintendent Megan Van Fossan said.


In the Feb. 7 ruling, Judge Renée Jubelirer determined education is a “fundamental right explicitly and/or implicitly derived from the Pennsylvania Constitution,” and the right had been violated. The disparity among school districts with low and high property values and incomes was depriving students of “equal protection of law,” according to Judge Jubelirer’s opinion. The ruling also determined the commonwealth’s funding formula is inherently unfair to economically disadvantaged students, specifically students of color.


The lawsuit was brought by six school districts, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, several parents and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.


“We need to start fighting for kids in the Commonwealth instead of each other. The money spent on legal fees in these types of cases is heartbreaking. Every child in the Commonwealth deserves a high-quality education,” Van Fossan said.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-42), said the Democratic caucus has been saying for a long time public schools aren’t funded fairly, and it was Republican leaders who decided against appealing the decision. Despite a consensus on the issue, leaders of both parties approached a solution differently. Fontana said the Republican solution to the issue of unfair school funding was to propose $100 million for private school vouchers, while Democrats were more interested in restructuring funding for public schools. Fontana said the current fair funding formula needs to be looked at and the way charter schools receive funding could be amended as well.


Currently, charter schools receive money out of local school district budgets, further penalizing low-performing schools by decreasing resources as students leave.


“Stowe and McKees Rocks they’re struggling down there,” Fontana said. “They can’t raise property taxes to bring in more dollars.”


Fontana is against privatizing schooling, which he said would be the effective result of allotting public money to private schools.


“We have to keep public schools. We just need to make them better,” Fontana said.


Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-39) and Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41) issued a statement about the Republican decision not to appeal the ruling:


“After completing a thorough review of the Commonwealth Court ruling on school funding, we have determined an appeal will not be undertaken. We recognize the perspective of the court and appreciate the necessity for educational opportunities for all children throughout the Commonwealth. This ruling provides an opportunity for meaningful changes to move Pennsylvania’s education system into the 21st century.


“In order to evolve our approach to school funding and ensure fairness for our students, further modifications and an examination of ways to streamline services must be explored. Engaging in a holistic approach which finds an appropriate balance between addressing the needs of students and respecting the ability of taxpayers to pay the costs is vital.


“As we continue this conversation and our work to address the court’s ruling, we must also step back and look at ways to further empower parents in the education of their children. Every child has unique needs which must be considered in order to provide a strong educational foundation for all students across the commonwealth.”



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