Attorney General Josh Shapiro came out this month in support of the plaintiffs in a historic school funding trial that argues Pennsylvania is infringing on constitutional obligations by failing to provide equitable funding for school districts and increased investments in education.
“Every child in our commonwealth should have access to a high-quality education and safe learning environment regardless of their zip code,” said Shapiro in a news release regarding the amicus brief he filed in support of the lawsuit.
Shapiro, who is also the sole Democratic candidate for governor, stressed that school districts in Pennsylvania, particularly low-income ones, aren’t able to provide the proper education guaranteed by the constitution “not for lack of trying, but for lack of adequate funding.”
The school funding trial, which counts six school districts as plaintiffs, concluded in March and is awaiting a decision from the court. Plaintiffs allege that the state has failed to provide the necessary amount of funding to ensure positive education outcomes for their school districts, especially in comparison to wealthier schools.
Under the current system of allocating education funds, wealthier school districts can spend up to twice as much on an individual student compared to their low-income counterparts. This is partly due to the reliance of Pennsylvania school districts in funding by local property taxes.
For lower-income school districts, this means a disparity in funding and resources that the lawsuit alleges the state has failed to address, leading to lower test scores and negative education outcomes for the affected districts.
In his amicus brief, Shapiro pointed out that the current funding system violates the Education Clause in the state constitution, while also noting that adequate funding is contingent on student outcomes, and whether or not resources are being provided for low-income school districts to succeed.
Highlighting that funding should be partly determined by school district performance, Shapiro noted that “educational outcomes in those [petitioner] districts are both significantly worse than those in other districts across the Commonwealth and inadequate in their own right.”
The Attorney General’s brief joins an outpouring of briefs in support of the fair funding trial coming from law professors, teachers’ unions, and education leaders.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Education currently accounts for 38 percent of education funding for schools, with local districts picking up the rest of the costs. This is markedly lower than the 47 percent national average for how much a state provides.