Tuesday, September 22, 2015
Last fall, plaintiffs filed suit against Pennsylvania, arguing that education is a fundamental right under the state constitution and that the state has violated that right by repeatedly failing to ensure adequate education resources. That claim moved through the trial court quickly and is now before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Pennsylvania is one of the few states that has yet to fully entertain these issues, having dismissed school funding cases in the past as non-justiciable. Something tells me that this time might be different. As discussed several times on this blog over the past few years, the state has been so derelict in its obligations to its students that its action could be declared unconstitutional under any minimal and deferential standard one might imagine.
The Education Law Center released this summary of the case and its amicus brief:
Harrisburg, PA -- On September 18, 2015, several Pennsylvania organizations and the national Education Law Center (ELC) filed a friend of the court, or amicus, brief in support of the plaintiffs in William Penn School District v. State, a school funding and educational opportunity case. They ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to allow plaintiffs to present their evidence to a trial court.
The State is arguing that plaintiffs should not have that opportunity. The State asserts that the courts should be closed to plaintiffs without hearing their claims and without learning what resources plaintiffs allege are missing from the public schools and, by their absence, causing harm to students.
The Pennsylvania-based Education Matters in the Cumberland Valley, Education Voters Pennsylvania, the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners, Public Citizens for Children and Youth, and Yinzercation , joined ELC on the amicus brief. The law firm of Jones Day provided pro bono assistance to author the brief with ELC.
The amicus brief provides the Pennsylvania Supreme Court with the national perspective on critical issues raised in this appeal. The brief explains that:
1. The plaintiffs' claims are justiciable, that is, they should be heard by the courts. The General Assembly has enacted substantive education standards, which the courts can use in determining whether the Commonwealth has fulfilled its duties under the education clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Courts in other states have relied on similar substantive standards to help adjudicate claims of unconstitutional education. Most other states have long held that challenges to state school funding systems and the limitations on opportunities that they can create are justiciable.
2. Adequate school funding leads to better educational outcomes. A strong body of empirical studies shows that increases in funding designed to ensure adequate resources improves outcomes for students with additional educational needs. And, courts across the country have recognized this reality.
"Pennsylvania school funding is among the most unfair in the nation, shortchanging opportunity for public school children across the state, said David Sciarra, Executive Director of ELC. "The current protracted standoff over the state budget makes it even more imperative to give these school children their day in court." See "Is School Funding Fair?"
Susan Gobreski, Executive Director of Education Voters Pennsylvania said, "This is an issue that is important for every person in Pennsylvania, and we believe the court needs to allow this case to go forward. The legislature has not acted in the current crisis, and it's crucial for the Court to stand up for the constitution and Pennsylvania's children and families."
After the state legislature and governor slashed Pennsylvania public school funding dramatically and the schools had to make major cuts that plaintiffs claim are harming kids, the plaintiffs decided to file this case in November 2014.
The school district and parent plaintiffs are represented by attorneys at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCOP), the Education Law Center-PA, and O'Melveny & Myers, LLP, pro bono.
The Court will schedule oral argument on this appeal for early 2016.