ABOVE PHOTO: The Pennsylvania Judicial Center, home to the Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg, Pa. A Pennsylvania court hearing Thursday, July 28, 2022 will address the fate of some 800 mail-in spring primary votes that three Republican-majority county elections boards threw out over the lack of handwritten dates on their outside envelopes. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
By Mark Scolforo
HARRISBURG, Pa. — A decision about whether Pennsylvania’s method of funding public education meets the state constitutional requirement that lawmakers provide “a thorough and efficient system” was left in the hands of a state judge recently when arguments wrapped up in the long-running case.
Commonwealth Court Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer did not indicate when she will rule but said lawyers have left her with a massive record to review.
The case could result in substantial changes, as the plaintiffs are challenging whether the amounts and method of distribution of the annual education subsidies issued by the General Assembly comport with the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The defendants, Republican leaders in the state House and Senate, argue that funding has been growing and is adequate.
State education funding was boosted in the state budget that passed earlier this month and has increased by billions of dollars during Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s nearly eight years in office.
Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, senior lawyer with the Public Interest Law Center, speaking for the plaintiffs, described the current system as plagued by deep and systemic shortcomings. He said people who feel their right to an adequate education has been violated have the right to go to court.
“What you have to show, I think, is that there’s a source for that violation, that the source is the General Assembly failing to do its duty,” Urevick-Ackelsberg told the judge.
Patrick Northen, lawyer for House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) told Cohn Jubelirer that in other states where courts have found school funding fell short of constitutional standards, a typical result has been years of additional litigation and tension between branches of government with “little or no practical results.”
The plaintiffs are six districts, several parents, the state conference of the NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools. Cohn Jubelirer’s decision is expected to be appealed, no matter how she rules.