pennsylvania education funding lawsuit

Commonwealth Foundation Files Amicus Brief Following Education Lawsuit Ruling

April 3, 2023, Harrisburg, Pa. — The Commonwealth Foundation filed an amicus brief in response to the Commonwealth Court’s recent ruling in William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education—an ongoing lawsuit over how Pennsylvania funds public education. The brief, submitted Thursday, argues that the court’s decision that “every student receives a meaningful opportunity to succeed” requires Pennsylvania to empower all students with access to better educational options.

“Pennsylvania’s education system suffers not from a lack of funding but a lack of options,” said Nathan Benefield, the senior vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation. “It’s difficult to imagine how we can guarantee all students meaningful opportunity if their only option is a low-performing school assigned to them by their zip code.”

Since the Commonwealth Foundation filed its first amicus brief in January 2022, taxpayer funding for Pennsylvania public schools has continued to grow, including a record $1.5 billion increase in state funding for 2022–23. Funding gaps between districts are largely due to the lack of restrictions on local property tax increases and the state’s “hold harmless provision”—a rule that protects funding for school districts regardless of changes in enrollment or demographics. Nonetheless, even the “poorest” school districts receive almost $20,000 per student in funding, far greater than the national average.

Tens of thousands of students sit on waiting lists for alternative educational options, including Pennsylvania’s tax credit scholarships and charter schools.

“What the court needs to make explicit is that education funding should follow the individual student, such as through Education Savings Account (ESA) programs,” said Benefield. “ESAs give education resources directly to families, allowing them to determine the best school and curriculum for their children. ESAs are popular among parents, and states are increasingly adapting them—most recently, Florida.”

The brief argues that educational choice, allowing money to follow the child, is the only solution to the disparities in opportunity. “It isn’t school districts that are harmed by our educational funding formula, but individual students,” emphasized Benefield. “Affluent families have many options for their children—including moving to a wealthier district or paying tuition for private school. Policymakers should ensure all children—regardless of zip code, income, or race—have similar opportunities.”

Commonwealth Foundation experts are available for comment. Please contact Stefanie Mason at 414-418-5132 or [email protected] to schedule an interview.

# # #

The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.