The Pennsylvania School Boards Association on Friday sued Gov. Tom Wolf, the state legislature, treasurer, and education secretary for failing to timely fund public schools during a budget impasse.
The lawsuit, filed in state Commonwealth Court, said that state officials violated both the Pennsylvania constitution and the U.S. Constitution in their “refusal and failure to pay state and federal funds to public school districts as required by law.” The school boards association wants the court to compel the state to timely release state and federal funds to the school districts.
Pennsylvania has not had a state budget since June 2015. By December, school districts had borrowed $900 million to help stay afloat, the state auditor general Eugene DePasquale, told Reuters in December. Districts were even contemplating keeping their doors closed after the Christmas break because they were on the verge of running out of money.
“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,” Nathan Mains, the association’s executive director, said in a media release announcing the lawsuit.
“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,” he continued. “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 draw down fund balances in order to continue to provide a high-quality education to all students.”
Gov. Wolf signed an emergency measure in late December that included emergency funding for school districts. But in its lawsuit, the school boards association, which represents 500 school districts, 29 intermediate units, vocational schools, and community colleges, said that it was still unclear whether some districts will be able to operate past February. They argue that very little federal funds have been distributed since last month.
The school boards association argues that while courts have held education to be a critical and indispensible function of government, the schools have not been treated that way during the impasse.
The lawsuit contends that the “lack of state and federal funding through this point in time has already caused school districts injury... .” Some districts have taken on unnecessary debts, delayed payments to vendors, and stopped contributing to the Public School Employees Retirement System, according to the lawsuit.
The school boards association wants the court to compel the state to pay the school districts funds they are owed and award damages to help districts recover the unnecessary costs they incurred during the budget impasse.
A full copy of the lawsuit can be found here.
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.