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Attorney: Judge wrote a ‘strong’ decision in landmark case
It’s been two weeks since a Commonwealth Court judge ruled Pennsylvania’s system of funding public schools is unconstitutional and must be revamped.
Backers of the ruling are looking toward Gov. Josh Shapiro’s new budget, expected March 7, to address the steps his administration will be taking to move toward compliance with the court decision.
Kristina Moon, senior staff attorney for the Education Law Center, called the victory “historic” for the petitioners: six school districts, parents, the NAACP of Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools.
Moon said the judge wrote a “strong” decision, which is 786 pages long.
“The judge found that education is a fundamental right and spelled out, for the first time, what kind of education is required by the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Moon said. “‘All students must have access to a comprehensive, effective and contemporary system of public education, so that every student has a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially and civically.’”
Moon said the court ordered the governor and General Assembly to come up with a plan to ensure access, as well as adequate funding. The Commonwealth’s K-12 system serves more than 1.7 million students.
In the case, which lasted eight years, Moon pointed out the decision means some validation for all the parents and educators who’ve been saying for years not enough money was being provided for resources for their students.
“They've been now validated by the court to say, ‘You’re right, this is not fair.’ And it’s in fact unconstitutional to not have enough funding from the state to be able to provide students what they need,” Moon said.
Moon said the judge took into consideration the challenges faced by underfunded school districts, and the wide gaps in graduation rates, standardized test scores, and opportunities between low and high-wealth districts.
The ruling also referenced the current funding system — which relies heavily on local property taxes — as disproportionately affecting students in low-wealth districts.
“She noted that these gaps widened even further into unjustifiable disparities for students who are Black, Latino, economically disadvantaged and English learners,” Moon said. “The court concluded that every child can learn, and money does matter.”
Moon said that in hundreds of pages of testimony and evidence from the trial, the judge found students in underfunded districts can overcome challenges if they have access to the right resources, which wealthier districts have been able to provide.
Danielle M. Smith is a producer for Public News Service, where this story first appeared. An award-winning radio journalist/personality with more than a decade of experience in broadcast media, she is a former audio journalist with American Urban Radio Networks and Sheridan Broadcasting Networks who also hosts a weekly community affairs show “Good News” on WGBN (1360 AM/98.9 FM).
Originally published February 25, 2023.