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School Funding Lawsuit Gets Commonwealth Court Hearing

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Five Commonwealth Court judges braved the storm Wednesday to hear arguments in a case that could have a huge impact on the way Pennsylvania public schools are funded.

The hearing was to decide whether the issue will get a full trial.

State legislators being sued asked the court to dismiss the suit, saying the state has no obligation to fund districts equally, that the disparity is a product of "local control" because districts are largely funded with property taxes.

They also said a recent change to the funding formula renders the case moot.

Attorneys representing parents and underfunded districts claim the disparities in Pennsylvania are so great they violate students' "equal protection" rights.

Jamella Miller says she saw the difference when her family moved from a well-heeled district in Montgomery County to the William Penn District in Delaware County.

"Our daughter was in a classroom where it was raining in the coat closet and all the kids' coats were wet, every time it rained," she said. "I mean not just wet from the rain but wet from being inside the building."

Bryant and Jamella Miller at a news conference after the hearing. -- School Funding Hearing
Bryant and Jamella Miller at a news conference after the hearing. Photo Credit: Pat Loeb

Miller's attorneys at the Public Interest Law Center and The Education Law Center argued the state does have a mandate to provide for a thorough and efficient education and not to discriminate against poor districts, which Miller says is what's happening.

"The inequity and the differences in the state are mind-boggling," says Public Interest Law Center attorney Mike Churchill. "As we pointed out today, before the court, Pennsylvania is the most unequal state in the country in terms of the resources between the well-funded districts and the poorly funded districts -- twice as bad as any other state in the country."

Churchill asked for a speedy ruling, saying children are being harmed on an ongoing basis as long as inequality persists.

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