In my March 27 post, I reviewed the procedural history of this case. Commonwealth Court President Judge Jubelirer (the Court) wrote it in her 2-7-23 Opinion. Here is the link to the 786 page decision. To summarize, the original Petition for Review was filed in the PA Commonwealth Court in 2014; the trial started there in November, 2021.
Thereafter the 2-7-22 Opinion discusses the following topics in order:
The (Public School) System
Types of Assessments
Funding of the System
Expert Witnesses for Petitioners & Respondents
Effect of Funding Scheme on Low Wealth Districts
Whether Petitioners Have Failed to Join Indispensable Parties
Whether the Wrong Parties were sued
The Court’s discussion on these topics is very important to understand its final opinion. I prefer however, to share with you, the reader, quotes from the 2-7-22 Opinion and my comments on the following legal issue in this post: What does the PA Constitution require our General Assembly to provide for public education?
This post has three parts. First is the Court’s review of the Education Clause over time. Second is the Parties’ view of the General Assembly’s constitutional responsibilities. The Court’s view of the General Assembly’s responsibilities today is the final section.
1. Court’s review of the Education Clause over time.
“An understanding of this history is useful in both determining the meaning of the Education Clause, and whether education is a fundamental right for equal protection purposes.“ 2-7-22 Opinion page 616
“The 1776 Constitution provided ‘[a] school or schools shall be established in each county by the legislature, for the convenient instruction of youth, with such salaries to the masters paid by the public, as may enable them to instruct youth at low prices.’ PA. CONST. OF 1776, § 44.” p 616
“In 1790, it was replaced with the following: 'The legislature shall, as soon as conveniently may be, provide, by law, for the establishment of schools throughout the State, in such manner that the poor may be taught gratis.’ ” PA. CONST. OF 1790, art. VII, § 1. page 616
“No changes were made to the Education Clause again until 1874. Article X, section 1 of the 1874 Pennsylvania Constitution provided: ‘The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public schools, wherein all the children of this Commonwealth above the age of six years may be educated, and shall appropriate at least one million dollars each year for that purpose.’ ” P A. CONST. OF 1874, art. X, § 1. p 616
“It was nearly a century later before the Education Clause was changed to provide what it does now: ‘The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth.’ PA. CONST. art. III, § 14.” p 616-17
Please note the phrase “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public…” was added in 1874 and continues today.
“With this backdrop in mind, the Court turns to Petitioners’ Education Clause claim. This first claim requires a two-step analysis, beginning with defining what a ‘thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth’ means followed by an analysis of whether the current system is satisfying that standard.” p 617
This post follows the Court’s decision on Petitioners’ first claim. My next post will follow the Court’s analysis on their second claim.
2. Parties’ view of the General Assembly’s constitutional responsibilities.
“Petitioners argue the Education Clause not only requires the General Assembly to provide all students with a system of public education but also a ‘high-quality, contemporary’ one that prepares students for college, careers, and civic participation.” p 617
Petitioners also argue the phrase “thorough and efficient” should be evaluated based upon it’s meaning in 1874 when it was first added. p 618
“That standard, according to Legislative Respondents, is whether the General Assembly created a system of public education that is providing students with a ‘basic standard public school education.’ ” p 621
Legislative Respondents argue the relevant time period in which to view the public’s opinion about the phrase “thorough and efficient” is 1967. This was the last time the public considered this language within the PA Constitution. p 619
Executive Respondents argued “that a thorough and efficient system [of public education] is one which provides a meaningful opportunity for substantially all children to achieve academic, social[,] and civic success.” p 623
“The State Board proffers no standard or interpretation of the Education Clause and indicates it takes no position on the Education Clause claim.” P 624
“The Attorney General urges the Court…to interpret the Education Clause as requiring ‘the General Assembly to provide continuing support for a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of education that prepares all Pennsylvania children for career and civic life. Attorney General argues the rules of constitutional construction support this interpretation…as does the legislative and contemporaneous history of the Education Clause, and it is consistent with how other jurisdictions have interpreted their constitutions.“ p 626
The Pennsylvania Attorney
General filed an Amicus “friend of the court” Brief. The Attorney General had not been sued by
Petitioners, but the Court had granted him permission to file materials as a
non-party along with many other individuals and organizations. Josh Shapiro was Attorney General at the time
this Amicus Brief was filed. Upon being
elected Governor, he replaced Tom Wolf as an Executive Respondent. Footnote 84, p 626
“Attorney General further posits that the Education Clause creates a constitutional mandate on the General Assembly that cannot be delegated to local officials. In addition, Attorney General asserts a ‘thorough and efficient’ education was intended to be a rigorous one.” p 626
"Lastly, Attorney General asks the Court to reject Legislative Respondents’ arguments that they are entitled to deference as baseless, noting other public officials and government bodies, including the Governor, Secretary, and State Board also play key roles in education.” Pages 626-627
Numerous individuals and organizations filed amicus briefs in this matter.
3. The Court’s view of the General Assembly’s responsibilities today.
“Thus, the Court finds a 'thorough' education is one that is full or complete;” and “Therefore, the Court finds that an 'efficient' system of public education is one that is effective or competent to produce the intended effect.” p 632
Both the plain language ...and the discussion of the history of the Education Clause ... demonstrate that the purpose of the Education Clause is not only to educate children, but also to ensure those children have the opportunity to become productive members of society when they become older. By arming children with the knowledge to succeed not just academically, but also socially and civically, the future of the Commonwealth is secured.
In sum, the Education Clause requires the General Assembly to provide a full or complete system of public education that is effective in producing students who, as adults, can participate in society, academically, socially, and civically, which thus serves the needs of the Commonwealth.” pages 632-33
“Therefore, the Court concludes that the appropriate measure is whether every student is receiving a meaningful opportunity to succeed academically, socially, and civically, which requires that all students have access to a comprehensive, effective, and contemporary system of public education.” P 634
I am biased.
As a retired classroom teacher and current substitute within local public schools, I know the schools are severely short staffed. The cause of this shortage of classroom teachers, counselors, administrators has had several causes. One of which is that public school funding in Pennsylvania is an issue the two largest political parties disagree upon.
As an attorney, I appreciate the Court’s time and effort in explaining the legal basis of its decision. “Thorough and efficient” is used within state constitutions from New Jersey to Wyoming within their education clauses. The Court painstakingly consulted case decisions in sister state jurisdictions, statutory construction resources and dictionaries written in the 1870s to justify the legal rationale of its findings.
Finally, and most importantly, my wife and I have three children who attended and graduated from Pennsylvania’s public schools. We had our local school district’s business office manager tell a group of parents that the “state needs to make the funding formula predictable so we know how much money the district will receive.” Why was that so difficult?