In a 786-page decision issued on February 7, 2023, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that Pennsylvania’s school funding system is unconstitutional and must be reformed. The case William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al. was filed against the Pennsylvania Department of Education, state legislative leaders, state education officials, and the governor (collectively, the “Defendants”) in 2014 by six Pennsylvania school districts, four parents of minor children, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – Pennsylvania State Conference (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”).
The Plaintiffs claimed that the Defendants did not invest enough money in schools, particularly in lower-wealth school districts across the Commonwealth, and as a result, were not meeting their constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” system of public education. The Commonwealth Court was tasked with deciding the question of whether the Education Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution is fulfilled by the state’s current school funding structure. In response, the Court determined that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has not provided for the “maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth,” and school children in lower-wealth districts are negatively affected violating both the Education Clause and equal protection principles.
As part of the 49-day trial, the Court considered the current public education system in Pennsylvania which serves more than 1.7 million K-12 students. Throughout the extensive evidence that was presented it was clear that Pennsylvania’s school districts “vary significantly” based upon factors such as geography and enrollment. The Court also reviewed the various appropriations for public education authorized by the General Assembly and local funding options including property taxes, earned income taxes, and per capita taxes. The Court drew attention to the visible impact of funding lapses in Pennsylvania’s schools including dilapidated school buildings, outdated textbooks, inadequate heating and ventilation, and much more.
The Court ultimately held that “public education is a fundamental right explicitly and/or implicitly derived from the Pennsylvania Constitution.” “The Education Clause indisputably imposes a duty on the General Assembly to maintain and support ‘a thorough and efficient system of public education.’” The Court agreed that a funding system which is so heavily dependent on local tax revenue creates disparity and “widespread resource inequality” between students in low-wealth districts to children in wealthier districts. The Court did not impose a solution to the disparity and inequality but ordered that the parties all work together on a proposed solution. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is fully expected to hear the case, so the next chapter remains to be written.
As always, the CGA Law Firm has a dedicated group of attorneys who are always monitoring developments to ensure your school’s staff and administration are up to date with the latest news in education and school law. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to Attorney Taylor Baublitz.
Taylor M. Baublitz
She has represented school districts before various administrative bodies including the Office for Dispute Resolution, Office of Civil Rights, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC), and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Taylor has developed a comprehensive expertise in areas relating to Title IX and has created training materials for Title IX coordinators, investigators, and decision-makers. She has led several seminars for school personnel and trained hundreds on Title IX processes.
Read Taylor’s Bio Page in full HERE.