Friday, the PA School Boards Association filed a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania seeking an order to compel the continued timely release of federal and state funds owed to school districts across the Commonwealth.
PSBA believes that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is violating Article III, Section 14 of the state constitution, the supremacy clause of the federal constitution, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The lawsuit also asks the court to award damages to school districts to compensate them for all interest and expenses incurred as a result of schools borrowing nearly $1 billion since the start of the budget impasse.
“It is absolutely shameful that the state’s failure to pass a budget for the last six months has forced us to seek a remedy before the court,” said PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains. “While our elected officials have continued to play politics with our state budget, school districts and all Pennsylvania students have been made to suffer. We will not sit idly by and wait for numerous school districts to run out of money and close their doors. The governor and the General Assembly have failed to pass a final budget while our public schools have been forced to borrow nearly $1 billion to temporarily cover costs and drawdown fund balances in order to continue to provide a high-quality education to all students.”
The lawsuit makes several claims, including:
-- School districts have lost significant amounts of investment income that they are required by law to budget for and use to offset taxes and expenditures;
-- The state violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution by funding state government during the impasse without funding school districts;
-- Federal law requires the timely payment of federal pass-through funds even in the event of a budget impasse by the state; and
-- The state has been holding money in “constructive trust” for school districts so that the investment income that has been earned by the Commonwealth properly belongs to school districts and their taxpayers.
Mains continued, “This is not a House versus Senate issue, nor a Republican versus Democrat issue. What we are witnessing is a complete failure of our state government to fulfill its constitutional duty to ensure that the education of our children is not interrupted. We are hopeful that the court will be able to step in and provide a remedy so that Pennsylvania school districts and the children they serve are not made to suffer any further. The governor’s partial release of funds this week has been encouraging, but we believe it still is necessary for the courts to make clear that the timely distribution of both state and federal funding is not a matter of discretion, but instead is an ongoing legal duty.”The full lawsuit is available online.