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Fair-funding lawsuit hearing sparks rallies and silent vigil

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Education advocates have spent much of 2016 drawing attention to the fight for a fair funding formula for Pennsylvania school districts. In September, one day before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments in the fair-funding lawsuit against the state, advocates rallied yet again for adequate funding.

Outside City Hall, POWER, a Philadelphia interfaith group, and other education advocates held a “sing-in” to show support for fair funding of public schools. The concert featured the Penn Wood High School marching band and speeches by teachers and students from the William Penn School District, one of six districts that brought the case. They cited a textbook shortage, too few seats in advanced classes, and dysfunctional heating and cooling systems in their school buildings.

The Rev. Gregory Holston, a pastor involved with POWER, said that “racism is at the core of the fair-funding issue.”

City Councilmember Helen Gym said that Pennsylvania remains 50th in the nation in terms of funding equality.

“The legislature has had ample opportunity to do something, and they have just sort of danced around it. It’s time for a court to step in,” Gym said at the event.

On the day of the hearing, supporters lined the hallways of City Hall in a silent vigil to further show support for the plaintiffs in the case, who argued that the judiciary’s first responsibility is to the state constitution, which says the state must provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”

Susan Spicka, director of Education Voters of PA, said that the current state funding system “guarantees that the poorest children will attend schools that do not have adequate resources.”

“Black and brown children are bearing the heaviest weight of this deprivation,” she said, and all children “deserve their day in court to share their stories and to demand a just remedy.”

After the hearing, education advocates held another rally outside City Hall.

“The legislature continues to abdicate its constitutional responsibilities,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center. “We asked the court to protect and enforce our [state] constitution.”

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