Fight over funding in Pa. schools put on trial, supporters of lawsuit rally


HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Demand for better funding for Pennsylvania schools is in Commonwealth Court on Friday, Nov. 12. A trial just kicked off accusing state leaders of violating the constitution.

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Six districts, including Lancaster, along with parents and advocacy groups are suing state leaders, including Governor Tom Wolf, Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, and House Speaker Bryan Cutler. They say Pennsylvania’s government is not equally funding schools.

Susan Spicka with Education Voters of Pennsylvania argues the disparity is hurting students in low-income areas, and specifically, students of color.

“Pennsylvania ranks 45th in the nation in terms of the state share of funding for public education. So that means we have a really heavy reliance on property taxes to fund schools,” Spicka said.

The governor acknowledges there is a funding gap. However, Republican leaders say schools are adequately funded in Pennsylvania and that government actually spends more money per student than most other states.

Nathan Benefield with the Commonwealth Foundation agrees with that.

“People don’t realize that Pennsylvania is among the highest spending states in the country, spending almost 20 thousand dollars per student in public schools,” Benefield said.

He agrees there’s room for reform, but thinks it’s not a matter of more money. Rather he says more choice, like charter schools, would help.

“While we do think there needs to be some changes in how schools are funded and how students are funded, that really should be left for the legislature,” Benefield said.

Former Steelton-Highspire Superintendent Travis Waters says he’s seen how low funding hurts local kids.

“Those kids come in behind and unfortunately they stay behind year after year after year because you don’t have the resources to address those issues,” Waters said.

This is a fight that could impact everyone.

“When we educate our kids and get them ready and give them the resources they need in school they will graduate and be productive citizens,” Spicka said.

The trial is expected to take several weeks. When it’s over the losing side is likely to appeal.

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