A landmark school funding lawsuit is going to trial in PA: Here’s what happened during the 1st Week
Following years of vastly disproportionate funding between wealthy and poor districts in Pennsylvania, a case that could change school funding in PA forever is going to trial. A lawsuit was brought about seven years ago by six school districts. The parties allege that Pennsylvania’s current school funding situation is in violation of the state constitution in which it is inequitable. The wide gaps in resource ability between school districts is the primary focus of the case, as Pennsylvania’s current system relies more heavily on local taxes than all but six other states, leaving students in lower-income districts with far less resources and a lower quality of education than their wealthier counterparts.
The trial began November 12th with opening statements primarily asserting that the state legislature’s school funding system violates Pennsylvania’s constitution. On November 15th, witnesses began to take the stand.
Here are the current highlights:
· The first full week of the trial concluded in the second to last week of November. Earlier that week, the effects of state underfunding in Panther Valley, one of the petitioner districts, was the focus of the Court. In this rural district, which serves four small PA towns, taxpayers pay the 10th highest local rates in the state. Even so, the district is still unable to provide adequate resources for its students.
· Then, the focus shifted to the big picture of Pennsylvania’s current system of school funding, including how it applies to the state constitution, and what our Commonwealth looks like now. A professor from the University of South Carolina Law School discussed the history of the education clause in Pennsylvania’s constitution.
· A Penn State finance expert from the College of Education shared his analysis of the current system, finding that PA schools are collectively underfunded by $4.6 billion, and that the state has allowed deep inequities to persist between the lowest and highest-wealth schools. Specifically, he says many school districts do lack the funding required to award students a chance to meet state standards, putting emphasis on particularly low-wealth districts that cannot raise funds independently.
· On December 1st at 9 AM, Matthew Stem, the former top K-12 official for the PA Department of Education, testified once more. He was asked to provide testimony on a wide range of topics during his cross-examination, such as the effect of school funding on the ability of Pennsylvania public schools to achieve the goals set forth for them by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the educational impacts of disparities in facilities, and more.
The cross-examination was due to continue the following day, December 2nd. I encourage readers to stay up to date on the status of this trial through the daily case summaries accessible at https://www.fundourschoolspa.org/trial.