HARRISBURG PA – Could the Pottsgrove or Pottstown school districts, and others like them in Pennsylvania that are considered comparatively “poor,” sue the state for failing to ensure its students were treated equitably when the legislature distributed education funding? That’s a premise being explored by political advocacy groups as the Commonwealth begins 2014, a big election year.
The state capitol
Neither district is involved in, or contemplating, any such litigation. They do, however – according to reporting by The Pennsylvania Independent online news service – represent a group of districts that might serve as a test case to both change funding policies and rouse the electoral emotions of vocal parents and taxpayers.
The Independent on Wednesday (Jan. 15, 2014) said national strategists “have raised the possibility of legal action to target fairness in education funding.” They believe they could argue in the courts that funding inequities impinge upon students’ civil rights, the news service said.
“The failure of states like Pennsylvania to guarantee all children an adequate education is among the most serious civil rights challenges in the United States today,” it quoted Dianne Piché, senior counsel and director of education program at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as she testified last week during a House Democratic Policy Committee hearing in Philadelphia.
Education funding, access and outcomes in Pennsylvania have become central issues in a tense election year for the state, The Independent noted. “Education is an emotional issue with voters in a year when Pennsylvania’s governor, all 203 members of the state House of Representatives, half of the state Senators, and the entire 18-member U.S. congressional delegation face elections,” it reported.
Pennsylvania is spending more than $5.5 billion subsidizing basic education costs in the state’s 500 school districts, the highest total in history, according to statistics cited by The Independent. Yet educational outcomes vary across urban, suburban and rural communities, and achievement gaps persist.
Complications that arise in providing public education aren’t simply a matter of money. Some advocacy groups think that’s where a lawsuit comes in, The Independent said. They “are eyeing the judicial climate to find potential avenues for dramatic change,” it reported. With the codification of education standards in recent years, legal grounds to argue for equitable schooling have grown more substantial … despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1970s ruled education is not a fundamental right under the Constitution.