A panel of experts in school funding matters will discuss state funding and the state Supreme Court’s recent decision to revive a lawsuit that claims Pennsylvania is failing in its obligation to students.
The forum will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Pitt-Johnstown’s John P. Murtha Center.
The panel also will include those who play an important role in the upcoming Pennsylvania school funding lawsuit.
A Commonwealth Court panel on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit, filed by multiple individuals and organizations, including the Greater Johnstown School District, that claimed Pennsylvania has failed to adequately meet its obligations to students.
The case was brought by school districts, parents, students and others against the board of education, state Education Department and education secretary, the governor, the House speaker and the Senate president pro tempore.
Plaintiffs include the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference and six school districts: Greater Johnstown, William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley.
After the Supreme Court’s 5-2 ruling in September reversed a 2015 decision by a lower court that had dismissed the challenge to how schools are funded, the case now returns to Commonwealth Court.
Oral arguments in a statewide lawsuit involving Greater Johnstown and five other school districts will commence at 9 a.m. Tuesday before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at Philadelphia’s City Hall.
The state Commonwealth Court originally dismissed the case unanimously on the grounds that the litigation raised political questions that were not appropriate for the judiciary to settle.
“This is the first time in several attempts in the last couple of decades that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has said ‘Yes, this argument needs to be heard,’” said Gerald Zahorchak, interim chairman of Pitt-Johnstown’s Education Division.
Zahorchak, who formerly served as Greater Johnstown’s superintendent and the state’s education secretary, said the districts involved with the case now have to prove in court that their students have less an opportunity to reach standards set by the state.
“I think it has implications because most of the funding for education that goes into the school districts comes from local taxpayers, and that funding is uneven because the poorer the community, the less likely local taxpayers are to raise sufficient funds to give an equal playing field to those kids,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s highest court on Thursday revived a lawsuit that claims the state is failing in its obligation to students, a case that could eventually have a dramatic effect on the shape of public education in the state.
Panelists will include William Hartman, former Penn State University distinguished professor (school finance); Ron Cowell, executive director of the Pennsylvania Education Policy Leadership Center; attorney Michael Churchill, the Ed Law Center (representing the plaintiffs); Michael Vuckovich, Greater Johnstown School District superintendent; and state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair, chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Zahorchak is encouraging community leaders, parents, students and anyone else interested in the topic to attend the discussion.