Pennsylvania Education Lawsuit Winners Advocate for $2 Billion Initial Investment in Equitable Funding

Pennsylvania education funding advocates who successfully challenged the state’s funding system in court are now prepared to take legal action if lawmakers and Governor Josh Shapiro do not provide a significant down payment on a solution. The Pennsylvania Schools Work campaign is calling on Shapiro to allocate $2 billion to help the state’s 412 underfunded school districts make necessary improvements to instruction and student services. This initial investment should be followed by an additional $1 billion per year for the next four years until the gap between current state funding and the constitutionally required funding level is closed.

The coalition’s proposal was announced just before the deadline for the Basic Education Funding Commission to submit its report on Pennsylvania public school inequities. Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, emphasized that the commission has a crucial opportunity to develop an evidence-based plan for a new funding system. Failure to respond to the court’s ruling from last year could result in the case returning to court.

A Commonwealth Court ruling in February 2023 stated that Pennsylvania’s reliance on local property taxes for education funding creates disparities that violate the state Constitution’s mandate for a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” Testimony before the Basic Education Funding Commission echoed the findings of the four-month trial in 2022, which highlighted the deep crisis faced by educators, students, and communities throughout the state.

A Penn State professor, Matthew Kelly, testified during the trial that Pennsylvania’s school funding is underfunded by about $6.2 billion, or approximately 20% of the current annual spending. According to Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, Senior Attorney at the Public Interest Law Center, this figure was determined by analyzing successful schools and their spending levels based on the state’s own goals and targets.

Children First Executive Director Donna Cooper pointed out the significant challenges of addressing the funding disparities, particularly in the context of upcoming elections and the expiration of federal aid funding. Governor Shapiro acknowledged the need for equity in the education system but also highlighted the challenge of finding a way to fund it.

Public sentiment favors increased education spending to address the funding disparities in Pennsylvania. Polling conducted by the Pennsylvania Policy Center shows that 69% of likely voters believe that public schools require more funding, and the majority feel that the state should take action to ensure schools are adequately and equitably funded.

Donna Cooper highlighted the awareness among voters about the funding disparities across the state, noting that it is not just an issue limited to urban districts or specific political affiliations. Voters recognize the need for improved funding regardless of their location or party affiliation.