News Column

Shenandoah Valley School District to be part of class action lawsuit involving funding shortfalls

July 5, 2014

By John E. Usalis, Republican & Herald, Pottsville, Pa.

July 05--SHENANDOAH -- The Shenandoah Valley school board voted to have the district involved in a school funding class action lawsuit to force the state to adequately fund low-income schools.

The board's vote at its June 25 meeting was 6-0.

Called the "Equity Lawsuit," the legal move is being promoted by the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools, whose self-described mission is to promote equal opportunity for quality education for all students in every school and community in Pennsylvania.

After the school board meeting, district Superintendent Stanley G. Rakowsky said he supports the initiative.

"We're basically suing the state for adequate funding," Rakowsky said. "We're going to be part of a class action lawsuit. There is an attorney, Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, who is proceeding with litigation intent on compelling the (Pennsylvania) General Assembly to act consistent with its obligations to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It's saying that law says they have to do it and here are the schools that are being affected by it."

Rakowsky added, "You have to do what the law says. You have to provide for adequate funding as the constitution provides for. You can't fudge it. It eliminates administrative discretion, and you need schools to be part of it."

Rakowsky provided The Republican-Herald with background information provided to the school board in a weekly update. Rakowsky explained in his update: "The media is replete with news stories and opinion- and research-based articles concerning the funding of public education in the Pennsylvania. At the core is the fact that the General Assembly has failed its duty to provide for the maintenance of support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the commonwealth. By the legislature's negligence to uphold its constitutionally-mandated responsibilities, school districts such as Shenandoah Valley School District find it progressively more difficult to continue with educating the district's students on par with other students throughout the commonwealth.

"To make matters even more untenable, there have been a myriad of state-imposed standards requiring substantial increase in local effort to implement (e.g., PSSA, Keystone Exams, etc.), but absent of GA adequate financial support to implement and sustain these edicts. For example, in 2007 the Pennsylvania State Board of Education directed a Costing Out Study be undertaken. The purpose of this COS was to determine what the average cost of educating students throughout the commonwealth. Despite the COS findings that a substantial increase in state funding would be necessary, the GA continued to stall. Indeed, instead of being proactive in implementing the PSB recommendations, 'the GA reduced funding to local school districts rather than create a viable system to enable districts to meet those standards.

"However, it's plainly evident the GA has little inclination to abandon its almost wanton underfunding of public schools. That's why, spurred on by proactive public school lobbying organizations such as PARRS, remedy is being sought is through the courts. Specifically, the Education Law Center-PA, the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, and a national law firm (O'Melveny and Myers) are proceeding with litigation intent on compelling the GA to act consistent with its obligations to the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Rakowsky continued, "Some time ago I was contacted by PARSS Executive Director Joe Bard. Prior to his present position, JB was Pennsylvania's Commissioner for Basic Education. In that conversation, JB stated that SVSD had been identified as one of the schools adversely affected by the funding disparity and requested the district consider being a plaintiff in the above lawsuit. Specifically noted was the district's low-ranking PARSS scores as being indicative of the morass confronting SVSD in its efforts to provide suitable education for our students without adequate state funding. That's why the district was asked to be a plaintiff in the pending suit."

Rakowsky said the costs are minimal in being a lawsuit participant.

"It's not going to cost us anything other than some in-kind costs, such as those to put reports together in the school district," Rakowsky said.


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Source: Republican & Herald (Pottsville, PA)

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