Poor schools are prepared to return to court if Pennsylvania budget falls short on funding plan

The poor schools that won a landmark school funding court case in Pennsylvania last year are prepared to go back to court if the Legislature and governor don’t adequately address shortfalls as key junctures approach, the schools’ lawyers said Thursday.

Public schools in Pennsylvania are currently underfunded by roughly $6.2 billion, according to the lawyers for the schools and public education advocates.

Lawyers for the schools that sued are calling on the Legislature to announce a multiyear funding plan to address the gaps and to begin acting on it this year. They have proposed lawmakers add an extra $2 billion to public education funds in this budget — echoing unanswered calls from last year — followed by $1 billion a year for each of the next four years to address shortfalls by the 2029-30 school year.

“We cannot accept a plan that is politically convenient but fails our students,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, one of the nonprofit legal organizations that represented the schools.

The proposal advanced Thursday follows the court ruling last year that the state’s $35 billion school-funding system is unconstitutional and shortchanges students in poor zip codes.

It comes as the deadline approaches for the final report of a commission tasked with recommending how to update the formula that distributes state aid to Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts.

The commission is composed of lawmakers and members of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration. Its commission report will conclude two months of work and 11 hearings.

Shapiro has acknowledged the court’s ruling looms large over his forthcoming budget proposal, due in February. He has supported calls for equity in school funding, but in recent weeks he suggested that footing the bill for the money is an important consideration.

“It’s a big number,” said Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, senior attorney for the Public Interest Law Center, which also represented the schools. “We don’t pretend that’s not a big number, but it’s also an urgent problem.”

  • January 5, 2024
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