First, Court Docket Update. No new filings or orders since last week are posted.
In last week’s post, I identified the parties who filed the Petition for Review with the Commonwealth Court in 2014. Background info was included as well as identifying the attorneys currently representing Petitioners.
This week I’ll identify the current state government officials identified as Respondents in President Judge Jubelirer’s 2-7-23 Opinion. Only two Respondents have filed a post trial motion and they did it together. I’ll also identify counsel named in those motions.
I’ll close with the 2-7-23 Opinion’s introductory explanation as to the legal arguments raised in this action by Petitioners.
“Over the course of this litigation, there have been numerous changes in administrations that have resulted in multiple substitutions of party respondents…. For ease of reference, the Court refers to Respondents by title, unless otherwise specified. Respondents include the Pennsylvania Department of Education (Department or PDE), the Governor, and the Secretary of the Department of Education (Secretary) (collectively, Executive Respondents);
the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (Speaker) and the President Pro Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate (President Pro Tempore) (collectively, Legislative Respondents);
and the Pennsylvania State Board of Education (State Board or Board).
Post trial, Bryan D. Cutler (Intervenor), who served as Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives at the time of trial and currently serves as Leader of the Republican Caucus of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, sought and was granted leave to intervene in this matter in his official capacity….”
Footnote 5 of 2-7-23 Opinion’s Introduction and Background.
Currently Respondents include Pennsylvania Department of Education, Dr. Khalid N. Mumin, in his official capacity as Acting Secretary of Education,
Kim L. Ward, in her official capacity as President Pro-Tempore of the Pennsylvania Senate,
Mark Rozzi, in his official capacity as the Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives,
Josh Shapiro, in his official capacity as the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and
the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.
Only Senator Ward and Leader Cutler requested Post trial relief on 2-17-23. Anthony R. Holtzman, Thomas R. DeCesar and Jonathan R. Vaitl, K&L Gates LLP, 17 North Second Street, 18th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17101-1507 represented Senator Ward in this filing. Patrick M. Northen and David A. Rodkey of Dilworth Paxson LLP, 1500 Market Street, Suite 3500E, Philadelphia, PA 19102-2101 represented Leader Cutler in this filing.
My Opinion. As only two Respondents have filed motions contesting the 2-7-23 Opinion, it is important to recognize this significance. Both these Respondents are Republicans. We will see next week, when this action was filed in2014, the PA Senate and House of Representatives were controlled by Republicans. Motions were successfully filed by Respondents to dismiss Petitioners’ action as a “political question” unable to be resolved by the judicial branch. Evidently funding of public schools in an equitable manner continues to be a political question almost 10 years later.
Summary of Petitioners’ Legal Arguments.
"Benjamin Franklin once said '[a]n investment in knowledge pays the best interest.'
Here, the question is whether the investment the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made in its system of public education complies with the Pennsylvania Constitution. Six school districts, along with some parents and their children, and two organizations, brought this action in the Court’s original jurisdiction nearly a decade ago, claiming Respondents are not investing enough, particularly in the lower-wealth school districts across the Commonwealth and, as a result, are not meeting their constitutional duties.
Specifically, at issue is whether the General Assembly has provided for the 'maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth,' as the Education Clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution, PA. CONST. art. III, § 14, requires.
Petitioners allege it has not, and this alleged violation is the basis of count I of Petitioners’ Petition for Review. In count II, Petitioners contend that low-wealth districts, which frequently serve higher need students, are not on a level playing field with higher-wealth districts, such that the current funding system violates equal protection principles."
2-28-23 Opinion Introduction and Background, footnotes omitted.