The legal strategy to get states to provide adequate education funding has changed -- and it's working in schools' favor.
Governing BY LIZ FARMER | DECEMBER 6, 2017
This fall, schools and other education advocates won a victory in Pennsylvania when the state Supreme Court reinstated a lawsuit claiming that the state's school funding formula doesn't meet schools' basic needs. The case, William Penn School District v. Pennsylvania Department of Education, is just one of many in recent years that highlight a fundamental shift in legal strategy for education funding lawsuits. Instead of arguing that funding levels are too low, plaintiffs have started focusing on state-mandated standards for public schools, such as test scores and college-readiness. In other words, they argue, implementing these new requirements while receiving the same or less per-pupil funding from the state amounts to an unfunded mandate violating the state's constitutional promise to fund education. "They'll mandate until the cows come home," says David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. "But what they don't do in so many places, is really sit down and think about if this is the performance we want, what are the resources that need to be in schools to give them a chance to achieve those standards, what's the cost and how do we build our financing formula around that?"
The approach is working.
What A Tax Overhaul Could Mean For Students And Schools
NPR Heard on Morning Edition ANYA KAMENETZ CORY TURNER Dec. 7, 20174:28 AM
The House and Senate are working to reconcile their versions of a tax plan — but one thing is for certain: Big changes are ahead for the nation's schools and colleges. Let's start with K-12. There, Republicans from both sides of Congress generally agree on two big changes.
Saving for private school - Taxpayers can currently save money for college through a 529 plan, where earnings grow tax-free. Many states also offer deductions for contributions. In the proposals, Republicans want to let taxpayers use 529s to pay for K-12 tuition at private and religious schools, too. Families can already do that with a different plan — Coverdell Education Savings Accounts — but these have low contribution limits and aren't open to high-income Americans. The move to expand the 529 would dramatically increase who could use these plans and the money they could save. "I think the only taxpayers who will be in a position to benefit from the 529 change are very rich people," says Nora Gordon, an economist and associate professor at Georgetown University. She says using these accounts to save for elementary or high school won't help much unless you can afford to set aside a lot of money early on. No wonder, when the Government Accountability Office studied 529s and Coverdells a few years ago, it found "families with these accounts had about 25 times the median financial assets" of those who didn't use them and "about three times the median income." While the proposed expansion of 529 plans would largely help affluent parents who use private schools, Republicans are proposing another change that could hurt funding for the nation's public schools.
Making sure children have health insurance doesn’t seem to be a priority for Congress or President Trump.
by The Inquirer Editorial Board Updated: DECEMBER 7, 2017 — 10:43 AM EST
Pennsylvania should be proud to have originated the idea behind the nation’s Children’s Health Insurance Program, which today provides coverage to 9 million low-income children and pregnant women. But like so many other good ideas and programs, CHIP is drowning in the fetid river of Washington politics. State Rep. Allen Kukovich (D., Westmoreland) in the 1980s came up with the idea of a health insurance program for families who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. But years passed before he and State Sen. Allyson Schwartz (D., Phila.) were successful in passing legislation to create Pennsylvania’s CHIP, which was signed into law by Gov. Robert P. Casey in 1992. Pennsylvania CHIP celebrated its 25th birthday on Dec. 2. But now CHIP here and in other states is on the verge of death because the national program created in 1997 to provide matching funds hasn’t been reauthorized by Congress. Several states’ CHIP programs will run out of money within weeks unless Congress acts, and most will be broke by March.
Editorial: Congress has imperative to fund CHIP
Daily Local Editorial POSTED: 12/05/17, 8:58 PM EST
That massive tax reform plan is not the only fiscal nightmare that is rattling around the nation’s Capitol. There is another problem that has now been festering for more than two months, one that affects some of the most needy among us – children. Thousands of children across the region are in danger of losing their health insurance. And yes, this one is connected at the hip with the blind zeal of some in Washington to do away with the signature legislation of the Obama Administration. While doing everything in their power to gut and eventually do away with the program known as Obamacare, our elected officials also have managed to allow funding for a crucial children’s health program to lapse. CHIP, which stands for Children’s Health Insurance Program, provides essential health benefits for thousands of families. It started more than 20 years ago, but its funding has not been in place since Sept. 30. Now several states, including Pennsylvania, are scrambling for cash to prop up the program.
In Pa. gerrymander case, experts can't defend the indefensible | Opinion
Inquirer by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Philly.com Updated: DECEMBER 7, 2017 11:19 AM
Pennsylvania is no stranger to partisan gerrymandering disputes. In a blockbuster 2004 case, the Supreme Court declined to strike down the congressional map then in effect. The court didn’t quite hold that the map was lawful; rather, it couldn’t think of a workable standard for evaluating the map’s validity. Another gerrymandering suit is now making its way through the Pennsylvania courts, with a decision expected by the end of the year. But unlike its predecessor, this suit is based on a manageable test as well as a mountain of damning evidence. Perhaps for this reason, it has thoroughly flummoxed the state’s lawyers and experts. What’s changed since 2004? In recent years, political scientists have developed powerful new tools for evaluating district maps. These tools indicate how skewed a map is in a party’s favor, how likely this skew is to persist in the future, and whether the skew has a legitimate explanation (like a state’s political geography). In the Wisconsin case now pending before the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs used these tools to craft a simple test for gerrymandering:
Registration is now open for the 2018 PASA Education Congress! State College, PA, March 19-20, 2018
Don't miss this marquee event for Pennsylvania school leaders at the Nittany Lion Inn, State College, PA, March 19-20, 2018.
Learn more by visiting http://www.pasa-net.org/2018edcongress