The Lead

‘A new day’: Philly officials respond to ruling in Pa. public school funding case

By: - February 9, 2023 10:16 am

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA — City officials and education leaders have responded to the Pennsylvania public school funding ruling.

Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer ruled Tuesday that the state’s school funding formula has fallen short and violates students’ unconstitutional rights, ultimately siding with districts in a lawsuit that was launched nearly a decade ago in pursuit of billions of dollars in additional annual aid.

The lawsuit, which was filed in 2014, alleged all state funding should be given out using the fair funding formula and divide the money among the state’s 500 school districts.

The plaintiffs for the case included six districts (William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre and Shenandoah Valley), several parents, the state conference of the NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools.

During last year’s trial, lawyers for the plaintiffs presented evidence that schools are underfunded by $4.6 billion. The ruling is expected to be appealed.

Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president Jerry T. Jordan said the union has always supported the lawsuit.

“The PFT has filed two amicus briefs, because we have long fought for the fundamental values it lays out,” Jordan said. “Philadelphia’s schoolchildren, like every child in the Commonwealth, need and deserve every opportunity to thrive.

“But for far too long our students have been shortchanged. Black and brown children and children experiencing poverty have gone without. This is an enormous victory and it’s a new day. One that can and must, completely shift the system of funding our public schools. Our children deserve nothing less.”

In a statement, the School District of Philadelphia’s governing body, the Board of Education, said the announcement will help bring more funding to the city’s public school system.

“This outcome has the potential to significantly benefit our students and community by allowing us to make sustained investments in our students, staff and schools,” the statement said.

“With adequate and equitable funding from the state, the district should have more tools to meet the Board’s goals for academic success and to create safe and welcoming learning environments.”

Some elected officials lauded the ruling, but stated more work needs to be done.

A judge declared Pa.’s K-12 public school funding system unconstitutional. What comes next?

“I hope that with this decision and a new democratic majority in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, the Commonwealth will provide school districts like Philadelphia with the funding we need to ensure that each and every child is able to receive a first-class education,” said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore-Richardson.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, who chairs the council’s Education Committee, called on government officials to implement laws that match the ruling.

“This massive step forward is still only a step,” Thomas said in a social media post. “State Reps, State Senators and Gov. Josh Shapiro must now make the law match the ruling.

“Today we celebrate, but tomorrow we will continue the fight,” Thomas added. “For every young person, every family, every educator, every school district deserves a quality education. Regardless of zip code or property values.”

According to data from a 2021 Children First study, Pennsylvania public school student enrollment has seen the most growth in the eastern/southeastern part of the Commonwealth, along with other districts in the Pittsburgh area.

Pa. court sides with plaintiffs in K-12 school funding case

While those regions account for 90% of growing districts, other district enrollment has declined since 1992, while continuing to receive funding increases of 142% per student.

Councilmember Cindy Bass said the study shows inconsistencies in education funding across the state. She’s hoping the ruling will bring change to students’ education in Philadelphia.

“Guess who’s getting the short end of the funding stick? Students of color, who comprise 80% of growing school districts,” Bass said. “Philadelphia’s district, for example, is 71% brown and Black. Each student’s education is underfunded by nearly $2,000 according to the “Hold Harmless” report.

“Local municipalities try to compensate for the deficient school funding by raising taxes. They are in a perpetual cycle of playing catch-up. It’s not working,” she said.

“I concur with the study’s conclusion Pennsylvania’s “Hold Harmless” funding system is an obvious example of systemic racism — to its core,” she added. “I expect with this judge’s ruling our students will finally see and experience real educational change.”

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared. Associated Press reports are included in this story.

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