Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Commonwealth Court Judges Weighing State's, Districts' Education Funding Clash

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Commonwealth Court Judges Weighing State's, Districts' Education Funding Clash

Article excerpt

HARRISBURG - Seeking to stymie a legal challenge to how Pennsylvania pays for its public schools, lawyers for the state told a panel of judges Wednesday that education funding is not a matter for the courts to decide.

Patrick Northen, an attorney for Republican legislative leaders, cited a decision in the late 1990s in which the Pennsylvania courts found that questions of what constitutes an adequate education, and whether adequate funds are available to provide it, are ones for the General Assembly.

In November, six school districts, parents of schoolchildren, the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the state conference of the NAACP filed a lawsuit asking the state courts to find that the current system of school funding violates a provision in the state Constitution that the General Assembly "shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."

They asked that the courts order the state to develop a funding policy that provides all Pennsylvania students with an equal opportunity to obtain an education.

But lawyers representing the state objected that education funding is a matter for the Legislature, and so on Wednesday both sides gathered before a panel of Commonwealth Court judges to argue that point.

Brad Elias, a lawyer for the petitioners, said the landscape has changed since the courts found that education funding was the purview of the General Assembly. Since then, he said, the state has adopted academic standards and tests that define and assess an adequate education.

The school districts and other parties have argued that these standards and tests, along with a study to determine the cost of education, give the courts objective standards through which they can determine if the state has met its own benchmarks in education. …

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