Yesterday, the PA Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the school funding lawsuit. The courtroom was packed with parents, advocates, faith leaders, school and elected officials, and community members from throughout the Commonwealth. Supporters who believe Pennsylvania’s children should have their day in court filled the overflow room and poured out into the hallway.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs urged the PA Supreme Court to allow the case to go to full trial. They urged the court to authorize judicial review of the state’s failure to uphold the Education Clause and Equal Protection provisions in the PA Constitution and address the inadequacy and inequity in our school funding system.
Citing evidence of underfunding and the gross inequities that exist among school districts, an attorney for the plaintiffs made a passionate, powerful, well-reasoned argument that the current system violates the Education Clause in the PA Constitution that mandates that the state legislature “support and maintain” a “thorough and efficient system of public education.” He argued that the case should go to full trial so that the plaintiffs have an opportunity to prove their case.
Attorneys for the state argued that the court should play no role in enforcing the Education Clause in the PA Constitution. They argued that the legislature must simply set up a “system” of education, that any system that keeps the doors of schools open is sufficient, and that “no individual child has any specific right to an education at all.”
A particularly memorable moment occurred after Justice David Wecht asked an attorney for the state a question along the lines of: What if the legislature decides that a system is acceptable where one school district had a Cadillac system while another had no books or desks?
The attorney for the state responded, “I can’t imagine that will come about.” The audience reacted to this statement with palpable, stunned disbelief that rippled throughout the courtroom.
After the hearing, we were honored to have been invited to speak at a large rally outside Philadelphia City Hall and made these comments about the widespread, deep deprivation in our public schools and the need for court intervention.
Now we wait.
We don’t know when the Supreme Court will make its decision. What we do know, however, is that attorneys and staff at the Education Law Center and the Public Interest Law Center have done extraordinary work on behalf of our children. They have put together a powerful case that demonstrates that our state legislature is violating the PA Constitution. The plaintiffs in this case deserve their day in court so that they can share their stories and prove the harm that this broken, unconstitutional system is inflicting on PA’s children.