By Dan Spinelli
Dan Spinelli is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying English.
It seems surprising that Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and the Republican-heavy Pennsylvania state legislature could ever land on the same side of an issue involving education funding, but a recent lawsuit has done just that.
In mid-September, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard oral arguments in the case of William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, a reprise of sorts of a similar case dismissed by a Pennsylvania appellate court in April of 2015.  Over a year ago, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania dismissed the case, which accused the state’s education funding system — determined in amounts voted on and allotted by state legislators — in a move Wolf and his opponents supported. While the Democratic governor and his Republican legislature went 267 days without a budget, the longest time the state has ever gone without one, both sides were unwilling to cede ground for political debate to the high court. 
But, as the Greyjoys of Game of Thrones so often tell us: “what is dead may never die.” Now, William Penn is back for another turn in the high court, and this time, in much more favorable terrain: the Democrat-dominated Supreme Court. In a court stacked with five Democrats and two Republicans, the time may be ripe for education advocates to get the “fairer” distribution of funding toward the poorest school districts in the state they’ve wanted for years.
In context, however, this debate is far from new and, likely, far from over. Since 1991, education funding in Pennsylvania has been allotted per a “hold-harmless” system, which allows each district a two percent increase in funds per year and the occasional emergency package if needed. The system does not take into account population change or compensate for other taxes being paid in the district. 
Periodically, Pennsylvania governors have introduced a funding formula. Democratic Governor Ed Rendell proposed a formula that accounted for district poverty levels, enrollment rates, and special education. When his successor, Republican Tom Corbett, was elected into office, this formula was soon scrapped, making Pennsylvania one of the few states nationwide that did not operate under such a funding formula. In June of 2016, however, Governor Wolf reintroduced a separate funding formula. Education advocates, who greeted the opening of oral arguments at William Penn with chants, costumes and a full choir, still clearly believe the state can do more in support of equal funding. 
“The formula is only a baby step toward what is needed,” wrote Michael Churchill, a staff attorney for the public interest firm representing the plaintiffs in a Philadelphia Magazine op-ed. “It does not address the inadequate amount of funding available to districts struggling to meet state-set proficiency standards. It does not address the vast inequities that exist from district to district. Indeed the formula locks in those inequities because it only addresses how new funding is distributed. It never asks what schools need in order to meet state standards.” 
Whether the lawsuit succeeds will depend on how firmly the judges are persuaded that the state legislature has truly squandered its duty — a tough task in an age where gridlocked legislative bodies are the norm, not the exception.
 William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education. Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. 21 Apr. 2015. Print.
 Addy, Jason. "PA-BGT: PA Gets a Budget." PA-BGT: PA Gets a Budget. PoliticsPA, 23 Mar. 2016. Web. 17 Sept. 2016.
 Jackson, Alyssa. "Gov. Wolf Signs Fair Funding Formula." York Dispatch. York Dispatch, 02 June 2016. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
 Graham, Kristen A. "Before State Supreme Court Weighs In, a Rally for Education Funding." Philly.com. Philadelphia Inquirer, 12 Sept. 2016. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
 Churchill, Michael. "Why Pa.'s New School Funding Formula Is Still Unfair and Unconstitutional." Phillymag.com. Philadelphia Magazine, 02 June 2016. Web. 19 Sept. 2016.
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