When Tuesday’s argument in the protracted lawsuit came to a close, the state judge who was presiding over it was given the responsibility of making a judgment about whether or not the manner in which Pennsylvania uses to pay for public education satisfies the requirement in the state constitution that legislators establish “a thorough and efficient system.”
The judge assigned to the case in the Commonwealth Court, Renee Cohn Jubelirer, did not provide any indication as to when she would make her decision, but she did say that the attorneys had left her with a vast record to study.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are questioning whether the amounts and manner of distribution of the yearly education subsidies provided by the General Assembly are in accordance with the Pennsylvania Constitution. If the plaintiffs are successful in their challenge, the case might result in significant changes.
The defendants in this case are Republican leaders in the state House and Senate. They contend that there has been sufficient funding growth and that it is sufficient.
The Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, has been in office for over eight years, and during that time, state spending for education has grown by billions of dollars. This increase was included in the state budget that was enacted earlier this month.
Attorney Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, of the Public Interest Law Center, spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs and characterized the present system as being riddled with serious and systemic problems. They have the right to take legal action, he stated, if they believe their educational rights are being abused in any way.
In other states where courts have determined that school financing does not meet constitutional criteria, the usual effect has been years of more litigation and conflict between arms of government with “little or no practical results,” according to Patrick Northen, a lawyer representing House Speaker Bryan Cutler, a Republican from Lancaster. Mr. Cutler is the current speaker of the House of Representatives.
Six school districts, a number of individual parents, the Pennsylvania state conference of the NAACP, and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools are the plaintiffs in this case. Regardless of how she decides, it is believed that the judgment made by Cohn-Jubelirer would be challenged.