State court tentatively sets date for landmark Pa. school funding case

Students change classes at a public school in Pennsylvania. (Jessica Kourkounis for Keystone Crossroads)

Students change classes at a public school in Pennsylvania. (Jessica Kourkounis for Keystone Crossroads)

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has tentatively scheduled a hearing in a landmark education funding lawsuit for the summer of 2020, according to a trial schedule released Thursday.

It took four years of legal battles for the plaintiffs to get to this point, but it appears this lawsuit will finally receive a trial on the merits.

In 2014, a group of districts and parents sued the state government, accusing it of underfunding public schools. The level of underfunding and the disparities among districts were so severe, they argued, that the legislature and the governor had violated the state constitution.

The state supreme court reversed decades of precedent in late 2017 when it declared that the courts could get involved in this issue. Through the following year, the Commonwealth Court waded through a series of preliminary objections filed by Republican legislative leaders, ultimately deciding that the case should go to a full trial.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Absent another delay or surprise dismissal, the two sides will present their cases in the summer of 2020. Even after the Commonwealth Court hands down its decision, the losing side will likely appeal to the State Supreme Court, which could stretch the case well into the early part of the next decade.

The stakes are high, though. A win by the plaintiffs could unleash more money for public schools and reshape the way Harrisburg doles out education dollars.

Republican lawmakers say they’ve addressed a lot of the equity concerns raised by the plaintiffs by enacting a new state funding formula that allocates dollars based on factors such as student poverty and accurate enrollment numbers. 

That formula only applies to recent increases in state education aid, and the Commonwealth Court rejected that argument to allow the case to proceed.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal