Many kids are going back to school this week in the state of Pennsylvania. However, it is an unfortunate reality that not all students are exposed to the same resources or education as others. In 2015, federal data showed that Pennsylvania had the highest gap between how much the wealthiest and lowest income districts within the state spend per student across the country. Districts with higher poverty levels received one third fewer tax dollars per student compared to wealthier districts.
This has proven to be a problem within the state for a long time. However, a lawsuit is being made as an effort to solve the problem. The matter is the subject of a landmark lawsuit that is headed for trial in Commonwealth Court. The lawsuit argues that Pennsylvania does not meet constitutional requirements because the funding for schools in the state relies heavily on local tax dollars. Therefore, it is not fair for districts that are unable to raise enough revenue on their own. The lawsuit claims the state discriminates against these districts, as they are usually lower-income areas.
Attorney Michael Churchill stated, “Our current school funding system is unfair to students because of the disparities, and it’s unfair to taxpayers because of the disparities, and it’s unfair to the communities that are having to bear the costs because the state’s not willing to pay their share.” The Pennsylvania School Boards Association calculated that for the 2017-2018 school year, about 58% of revenue for school districts came from local taxes while 38% came from the state.
State Governor Tom Wolf passed a recent budget plan that went into effect on July 1 of this year. It is a $34 billion spending plan that includes $160 million more in funding for kindergarten to twelfth-grade education. It also includes an additional $50 million for special education and another $25 million for early childhood programs. However, Churchill believes that it is “not enough to correct for the poverty of many, many districts.”
There are numerous groups behind this notion that are also pushing for equal education funding. In June, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, in conjunction with the Public Interest Law Center and other advocacy groups, launched the PA Schools Work campaign. The campaign is described as a nonpartisan effort that seeks to have the state “pay its fair share” for education.
This lawsuit has the potential to be a step in the right direction in providing districts with more equal funding from the state rather than local taxes.
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