Activists: Education funding debate likely to return to court

Posted: January 09, 2014

THE BATTLE OVER fair and equitable school funding in Pennsylvania will soon be headed back to court, activists said yesterday.

Testifying before a panel of state lawmakers, Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the Education Law Center in Pennsylvania, said her organization, in conjunction with the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, is preparing to file a lawsuit arguing that the state has violated its constitutional requirement to provide a "thorough and efficient system of public education."

The announcement drew modest applause from the audience at the National Constitution Center, but it would not be the first time the approach has been tried. The commonwealth's state courts have consistently dismissed school-funding cases, declaring it an issue for the Legislature.

"Now that we have standards, we have the PSSAs, we have the upcoming Keystone Exams, we have a costing-out study, the world has changed," Brownstein told members of the House Democratic Policy Committee. "It's not going to be easy. We have to convince the courts they have to take a new look at this. We think we have a very strong case, but you never know."

Public-school advocates claim the state underfunds schools and fails to allocate money transparently or equitably, putting poorer districts at a distinct disadvantage. Pennsylvania is one of just three states that does not factor differing economics among districts for school funding, according to the ELC.

Timothy Eller, spokesman for the state Department of Education, insisted the state has not violated its constitutional mandate.

"There is a funding formula in place that the General Assembly passes every year, including the year that we're in, that drives dollars out to schools," he said. "Are there some that disagree with that formula? Absolutely . . . but that's the result of a legislative process.

"Not everybody's going to agree with what becomes law."

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol

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