Almost a dozen Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are making plans to file a lawsuit over Pennsylvania’s school funding formula, alleging that the formula is unconstitutional because it violates the equal protection clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The lawsuit seeks to have the court force the General Assembly to develop and vote on a fairer school funding formula and reimburse rapidly growing school districts for lost funding.
The lawmakers are focusing upon the “hold harmless” provision of the Education Code that states that no school district can receive less funding than the year prior, even if the district’s enrollment declines, and that distributes funds based on the 1990 census. Under the current school funding formula, the counties with the fastest growing school districts receive significantly less per capita funding than counties where enrollment is decreasing, static, or growing slowly. These state lawmakers argue that the current funding formula penalizes growing districts with increased property taxes and underfunded schools.
In 1999, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that school funding issues should be decided by the executive and legislative branches, not by the courts. Efforts since to change the funding formula have failed in the Legislature. Few legislators from counties with declining school enrollments have been willing to vote to redistribute education funds—and, consequently, to increase their own local property taxes—to counties with growing student enrollments. Pennsylvania legislators representing school districts with slow-growing or decreasing enrollments outnumber legislators representing quickly growing areas in the General Assembly.
One of the lawmakers is personally paying for the legal fees. The group expects to file the lawsuit this summer.