HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – After nine weeks of making their case, with nearly 30 witnesses and over 11,000 pages of testimony, petitioners in the fair funding lawsuit have concluded their case-in-chief.
Now, it’s up to respondents for Pennsylvania’s Legislature to make theirs.
In Nov. 2021, petitioning school districts, superintendents, and parents finally got their opportunity to argue the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s system of education funding in Commonwealth Court. Their day in court came roughly seven years after originally filing suit.
Pennsylvania’s Constitution calls for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education. Petitioners say state leaders have fallen short, and continue to fall short, of their Constitutional obligation.
Over 30 days of testimony from school officials and expert witnesses addressed serious funding concerns and shortfalls with Pennsylvania’s public schools, especially those in rural and urban areas.
“It’s clear that we need substantial recurring increases in state education funding distributed equitably to ensure all children in Pennsylvania have access to quality public education,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, the Executive Director of the Education Law Center.
Gordon Klehr says the nine weeks of testimony brought many issues to light, and allowed many voices to be heard.
“This trial is significant and historic because it’s been an opportunity to provide a comprehensive set of testimony and evidence before the court,” said Gordon Klehr. “Over the course of nine weeks, our legal team has called 29 witnesses and generated a record about the effects of underfunded schools,” she added.
One of those issues was the impact local wealth has on local school districts.
Petitioners say the gap in funding between low-wealth and high-wealth area school districts is nearly $5,000 per student and growing. They say local wealth should not determine academic success for students, calling it unconstitutional.
They’re calling on leaders of the Legislature to decrease the funding gap between high-wealth and low-wealth area school districts, and to adequately fund public schools throughout the commonwealth.
The state has made efforts to increase public school funding in recent years. However, petitioners say public schools are currently underfunded by $4.6 billion, and that despite recent efforts by the state, it’s still not enough.
Now in its tenth week, the fair funding trial will hear from respondents from the Legislature. They’ll have the opportunity to defend the current system in Commonwealth Court.
Senate President Pro Tempore, Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata) and Speaker of the House, Rep. Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), will present witnesses for the Legislature to make their case.
Their testimony is expected to last two or three weeks before rebuttals and closing arguments.