State Court Sides with Petitioners in Fair Funding Trial

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Tuesday, Commonwealth Court sided with plaintiffs and petitioners in the “Fair Funding Trial.” The ruling stated that the General Assembly has failed to provide all children with a thorough and efficient education.

At the center of the trial was the issue of inadequate and inequitable public school funding, and the role of the General Assembly and other state leaders in that funding.

Plaintiffs and petitioners in the case include six school districts, parents, and two statewide organizations. They spent four months making their case. Now, after nearly 15 months from when the trial first kicked off in Commonwealth Court, petitioners are celebrating the ruling.

“The court made very clear that every student, all students have to be provided the level of education necessary to meet the standard within the Constitution,” said Katrina Robson, an attorney for petitioners during a call with media this afternoon. “It is a fundamental right that every child now has the protection of throughout the commonwealth,” Robson added.

Specifically, the ruling states the General Assembly has failed to provide all children with a thorough and efficient education system by depriving students in school districts with low property values and incomes of the same resources and opportunities of children in wealthier ones.

Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Jubelirer issued the nearly 800-page ruling yesterday saying it is now “the obligation of the legislature, executive branch, and educators, to make the constitutional promise a reality in this commonwealth.”

“What the court has found, is that lawmakers in Pennsylvania have a requirement to provide this thorough, complete, efficient contemporary education. With a decision like this in front of them, certainly they’re going to take into consideration the fact that they need to meet that standard and they are under court order to do so,” said Robson.

Respondents include leaders of the General Assembly, the Department of Education and the governor. Some respondents have argued it’s a constitutional matter and less about the issue of funding. Today, House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) issued a statement in response to the ruling.

“Yesterday’s Commonwealth Court decision is disappointing, but not surprising from a state judiciary that consistently identifies itself as a legislature to reach policy gains political allies cannot achieve in the General Assembly,” said Cutler. “Over the last 12 years of Republican leadership in the General Assembly, we have repeatedly prioritized student success over increasing the wealth of school districts while at the same time increasing state taxpayer support for public schools despite declining enrollments,” he added.

Cutler argues the issue won’t be solved by more money. He believes students and families need more choices.

“Unfortunately, the problems existing in our public education system go well beyond funding. The only part of optimism in yesterday’s decision is the recognition that merely providing more money to the public school system is not the only available answer to fix a failing system,” said Cutler. “While we work to continue to provide increased support for students in our public schools, it is imperative that we also provide Pennsylvania families the choice to find educational options that meet the demands of a rapidly changing future while simultaneously meeting the needs of each Pennsylvania family so students are no longer trapped in failed systems and can succeed regardless of ZIP code,” Cutler added.

An appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected.


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