Pennsylvania’s ongoing budget impasse – and failure to fund its schools – has resulted in a lawsuit being filed against the state alleging that it has violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, and Article III, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The case, The Pennsylvania School Boards Association, Inc. v. Wolf was brought by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA), on behalf of the vast majority of the 500 school districts and intermediate districts in the state, as well as vocational and technical schools and community colleges.
Pennsylvania has not had an approved budget since June 30, 2015. PSBA alleges that “with very little exception, through December 2015, no federal or state funds that are or were supposed to have been distributed to public school districts … have been distributed.” According to the complaint, during the budget impasse, the State has made public assurances that it would continue to make payments on all services “that affect the health, safety, and protection of Pennsylvanians or as required under Federal Law, state court decisions or the Pennsylvania Constitution …” Yet, claims PSBA, the State has failed to make expenditures for public schools during this time, resulting in school districts incurring debt, delaying or stopping payments to charter schools and vendors, failing to make payments to the Public School Employee Retirement System, and losing investment income.
Although Governor Tom Wolf recently announced that emergency funding would be released to the schools to continue their operation through at least January and February, PBSA alleges it is not clear that the funding will be sufficient to prevent the closure of some schools in the state.
PBSA has asked the court to, among other things, (i) declare that the Pennsylvania Constitution forbids the state from withholding funds from public schools during a budget impasse, (ii) impose a constructive trust on the funds that should have been paid to schools and their investment income, and (iii) direct the state to make all payments due to school districts under state and federal laws.