From 1989 to 1999 most of my life was taken up with a suit that our organization, Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) entered against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The actual submission of the suit really occurred in January of 1991. The results of that suit ended with the Supreme Court telling us that it was not a justiciable issue. That meant that it was none of their business. Funny, since the constitution of Pennsylvania calls for a “thorough and efficient “system, who then would interpret the constitution. No one, I guess.
On Monday November 10, 2014, we will once again be plaintiffs against the Commonwealth, especially, the legislature and the Governor. This time, we will not be the protagonists. We will be among a number of school district plaintiffs and actual parents and children. Although this sounds like the same kind of case pointing out that children are being unfairly treated in property and income poor places, it is somewhat different.
We claim that there is a claim that there is unequal protection under the law (in PA’s constitution) and that we now have a definition of “thorough and efficient.” We have had standards created by the State Board of Education (people refer to it as Common Core, but it really is Pennsylvania Standards) and testing done to see if these standards are met. It is given to all school districts in Pennsylvania. That means that we can compare schools and school districts across the state.
The state has already pointed out that a number of districts have had trouble with the tests. The students in those places do consistently poorly. There has even been an admission that those kinds of schools and school districts need extra help. However, that help has not been forthcoming and even basic education funding has been reduced.
As with the first case in 1991, we are at the end of a term of the Governor. It appears that our new Governor, who appears to have made education his primary goal, will then have his name placed on the case. The lawyers that have developed the case are part of the Education Law Center in Philadelphia. Although Philadelphia is not one of the complainants, they certainly will be highlighted in the case. There are actually 8 school districts across the Commonwealth who are plaintiffs, along with PARSS.
A rather large law firm based in Washington D.C. will be presenting this case. I believe it will be done pro-bono. My involvement will be slight. I am hoping that when the lawyers get to PA school finance, they will call on me.
Our funding system is completely broken. Since there is no formula to distribute funds, no one has any idea what they will get from year to year. It is probably unfair to almost all school districts in the Commonwealth, suburban, urban and rural, whether they are wealthy, middle class, or poor.
I am hoping that our new governor, Tom Wolf, will sit down with us early in his tenure, and help to create a more predictable, equitable and adequate formula. It’s been a long time since we have had a consistent way to distributing funds. We are one of a handful of states that has funded schools mostly by local taxes. You can imagine how that works, with some school district’s wealth making up for any shortfall and some who raise hardly anything, no matter how high they raise taxes.