Activists consider lawsuit against Pa. over school funding

The potential lawsuit follows a 1997 attempt by the city and the school district to sue the state

· March 26, 2014, 9:19 pm   ·  Updated March 27, 2014, 2:27 am

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The School District of Philadelphia says it needs $195 million to function next year.

But activists who fear they won’t receive these funds are considering legal action to ensure schools are adequately funded.

The Education Law Center, a legal advocacy organization in Pennsylvania, and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia are strongly considering a lawsuit against the state within the next few months, according to Executive Director of the Education Law Center Rhonda Brownstein.

Since 2011, the School District of Philadelphia has faced declining budgets. Over the past three years, the school district has operated with a cumulative three year loss of over $790 million.

“By failing to provide adequate funding to allow all students to meet standards, the state is violating the ‘thorough and efficient clause’ of the Pennsylvania constitution,” Brownstein said.

This potential lawsuit follows a 1997 attempt by the city and the Philadelphia School District to sue the state for funding under the “thorough and efficient” clause of the state’s constitution. However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that this was not an issue for the courts, but rather for the state legislature.

Despite this precedent, the potential plaintiffs believe that new circumstances should make the courts consider their case. One reason is that even though the state has implemented the Keystone Exams — standardized tests required for graduation — the state hasn’t provided money to make sure that students pass, Brownstein said.

The potential lawsuit has earned support from activists around the city.

“To me it is very clear that we are out of compliance with our constitution,” Executive Director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania Susan Gobreski said.

Education Voters of Pennsylvania, an advocacy group dedicated to securing funding for public schools across the state, is currently lobbying city officials to extend a current sales tax plan, which will give $120 million in revenue to Philadelphia schools.

Besides the $120 million, the school district is asking for an additional $75 million to continue the schools’ normal operations. On March 13, Education Voters of Pennsylvania was one of eight advocacy groups to protest in City Hall for this funding.

Activists are calling for more than the minimum $195 million because for school district students, extra funding can go a long way.

“This is how you get the things you want to have, like music and science and guidance counselors and librarians,” Gobreski said.

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