The Reporter (Lansdale, PA)

Don’t appeal school ruling

- — Scranton Times-Tribune

Commonweal­th Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer’s historic decision on school funding honors the state constituti­on’s clear intent to ensure that all children have access to a decent education.

In a 786-page ruling, she found unconstitu­tional the method by which the state government partially funds public schools, largely along lines alleged by six underfunde­d school districts, some parents and several education advocacy organizati­ons who brought the case.

The constituti­on, she found, was “clearly, palpably, and plainly violated because of a failure to provide all students with access to a comprehens­ive, effective, and contempora­ry system of public education that will give them a meaningful opportunit­y to succeed academical­ly, socially, and civically.”

Pennsylvan­ia’s government, in effect, has two systems for distributi­ng $7.4 billion in education funding, only about 35% of total public education spending. The Legislatur­e adopted a “fair funding” formula in 2015, thus acknowledg­ing that the previous formula had become unfair. But, because lawmakers did not want to diminish funding to some districts, it decided to distribute fairly only the money that it appropriat­ed after 2015. The result is that the new, fair formula applies to less than 20% of all state education funding.

Underfunde­d districts must make up the shortfall through local property taxes.

Because of vast disparitie­s in wealth and the tax bases across the state’s 500 school districts, many districts are underfunde­d relative to more affluent districts.

Jubelirer’s order invalidate­s the system but does not specify how to fix it, which she left to the Legislatur­e and governor. “The options for reform are virtually limitless,” she wrote.

The decision is appealable by Gov. Josh Shapiro, who likely will not do so given his support, as attorney general, for the underlying litigation, and by House Republican­s.

Shapiro should get the reform ball rolling by proposing effective reforms in his budget address. And rather than appeal to buy time against reform, legislativ­e Republican­s should engage in the process so that access to public education is not determined by ZIP code alone.

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