September 13, 2023 – Attorneys from Education Law Center-PA and Public Interest Law Center and superintendents from Panther Valley School District and Wilkes-Barre Area School District – who won a historic victory in their school funding case in Commonwealth Court in February – had their opportunity to testify before Pennsylvania’s Basic Education Funding Commission on Wednesday, Sept. 13 in Harrisburg.
The 15-member commission is holding a series of 10 hearings to develop a plan in response to the Commonwealth Court ruling, which found that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to maintain a “thorough and efficient system of public education” and mandated that state officials develop a school funding system that ensures “all students have access to a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education.” Wednesday’s hearing was the second in the series. View a recording of the testimony below.
Here are some highlights from the testimony of these four commission witnesses.
Testimony of Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, senior attorney at the Public Interest Law Center:
“Much of the Court’s opinion in this case rested upon a foundational understanding: ‘every child can learn, regardless of individual circumstances, with the right resources.’ Once you accept this basic tenet, which was true in 1874 when the guarantee of a thorough and efficient education was added to the Constitution, and which as ‘[a]ll witnesses agree[d]’ at trial, is true today, everything that follows is clear.” – Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg
An appendix to Urevick-Ackelsberg’s testimony outlines key findings from the Court’s decision.
Testimony of Maura McInerney, legal director at Education Law Center-PA:
“The Court’s decision provides a roadmap for this Commission to develop a constitutionally compliant school funding system and the decision must inform the work of this body. First, the Court identified “essential elements of a thorough and efficient system of public education” to serve all students. Second, the Court enumerated specific drivers of inequities that must be addressed and reformed.” – Maura McInerney
Testimony of David McAndrew, superintendent of Panther Valley School District:
“Last week, temperatures were above 90 degrees, and I had a choice to make. I could either dismiss school early, causing our students to miss half a day of education, or keep school open through the afternoon in uncomfortable conditions for young children. I chose to keep school open for the full day, but either choice meant giving students less than they deserve. If my district had adequate resources, I would not have had to make that choice at all.” – David McAndrew
Testimony of Brian Costello, superintendent of Wilkes-Barre Area School District:
“I know Wilkes-Barre Area. All my life, I have seen the incredible things we can achieve when we are given the chance. The court’s decision is clear: every child can learn, and it is up to us to make this promise a reality in Pennsylvania public schools. Invest in the future of Pennsylvania, and let our students show you what they can do.” – Brian Costello
In these remarks to the commission, our witnesses emphasized that to comply with the court order, the commission’s report must address four key tasks:
Determine adequacy targets for each district based on student need and current education costs, and the total cost to meet the constitutional standard for adequate funding;
Calculate funding targets that also address unmet needs beyond K-12 basic education funding – needs identified by the court as critical to ensuring meaningful opportunities for all the state’s public school students, such as facilities, special education, and pre-K;
Establish a fair and equitable “state share” for those targets so that low-wealth school districts can reach adequate funding at a reasonable tax effort; and
Develop a reasonable timeline to fully fund a constitutionally compliant school system that reflects the urgency of the problem.
Video of the testimony from each of the hearings is available on the commission’s website, as well as a schedule of upcoming hearings and a comment form for members of the public to offer feedback to the commission.