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Pennsylvania schools push for more funding after court rules in their favor

Lawmakers should take action to address a judge’s ruling that Pennsylvania’s system of funding public schools violates the constitutional rights of students in poorer school districts now that the decision won’t be appealed, lawyers for the districts and groups that sued said Monday.

The deadline to appeal the February decision came and went over the weekend, the lawyers said.

The lawsuit, filed in 2014, argued that Pennsylvania’s system of paying for public schools is failing the poorest districts and lawyers for the plaintiffs contend that billions more dollars are necessary to meet the state’s constitutional obligation.

While the judge agreed, she also did not direct the Legislature on how much state aid to distribute, or how. Lawyers for the plaintiffs — including six school districts, the NAACP and the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools — want lawmakers to comply with the judge’s ruling.

‘The decision is now final and there is no excuse for state lawmakers to delay action any further,’ the plaintiffs’ lawyers — from the Public Interest Law Center, the Education Law Center and the law firm of O’Melveny — said in a statement.

Leaders of the House and Senate Republicans in Pennsylvania had opposed the lawsuit. They hadn’t previously said whether they would appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court and did not immediately comment Monday.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, had supported the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are seeking more money for poor districts. They presented evidence during last year’s trial that schools are underfunded by $4.6 billion, an estimate that they said doesn’t account for gaps in spending on special education, school buildings and other facilities.

Litigation in the case may not necessarily end.

Neither Shapiro nor lawmakers have assembled a plan to address the court’s findings and the experience in other states suggests there’s no guarantee of swift, significant or longstanding change for the poorer school districts that sued.

The judge wrote that students in areas with low property values and incomes ‘are deprived of the same opportunities and resources’ as those in more affluent areas.

That disparity is unjustified, violating both the state’s obligations to educate students and the equal protection rights of students, the judge wrote.

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