By Andrea Sears, Public News Service
For The Post Publications
HARRISBURG PA – In what public school advocates claim as a victory in efforts to reform state spending on public education, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court last week reversed a lower court ruling and said a 2015 lawsuit challenging state education funding could proceed. It ordered the Commonwealth Court to set a trial date for the case first brought by the William Penn School District in Delaware County.
Depending on its outcome, the case could have far-reaching effects in overhauling the distribution of state education funds to poorer school districts like those in Pottsgrove and Pottstown, proponents said.
The Commonwealth Court relied on previous rulings that said education funding isn’t subject to judicial review. In its reversal, the Supreme Court said the lower court has a duty to consider the lawsuit’s charges that the Legislature is violating the education clause and equal protection provisions of the state constitution.
“This is a landmark decision,” according to Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania. ““The Supreme Court has ruled the courts can review both adequacy and equity claims in (the) fair funding suit.”
Pennsylvania is reported to have the largest funding gap in the nation between rich and poor school districts. While the state recently adopted a new school funding formula, it doesn’t apply to most state aid to education.
“Students have been attending school in underfunded classrooms of districts for years, and it’s exciting that the Supreme Court has finally taken a big step to address this issue,” Klehr said.
Gov. Tom Wolf also praised the ruling. He said it opens an opportunity to ensure that students in Pennsylvania have access to a fair education system, regardless of where in the state they live.
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