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Kortz and Gergely Encourage School Districts to Sue Corbett

By Ali Carey, Contributing Writer

State Reps. Bill Kortz (D- Allegheny) and Rep. Marc Gergely (D-Allegheny) are encouraging school districts that have been hurt by the nearly $1 billion reduction in education spending to join together in a class action suit against Gov. Tom Corbett to get funding increased.

Kortz and Gergely are visiting school boards throughout their areas encouraging them to join in the class action lawsuit.  According to Kortz, the South Allegheny school board already has approved a resolution to join in any such suit.

“We’re going around to the various school boards and we’re emphasizing their cuts.  Obviously they know what the totals are, but we’re being very specific taking school districts and we break it down by cut per student and we’re contrasting that with the school,” he said.

“We are trying to point out how unfair these budget cuts are for school districts.  And it’s not fair for a child who lives in a poor school district.  They’re deserving of the same opportunities to get a good education as a rich district like Upper St. Clair,” said Kortz.

Corbett’s office was did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The suit would accuse Gov. Corbett of making discriminatory budget cuts that disproportionately hurt already struggling poor school districts while having minimal effects on wealthy districts.  According to Kortz, the affluent Upper St. Clair school district lost only $79 per student whereas others schools have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars per student such as the Duquesne school district which reportedly lost $1500 per student.

Recruiting more participants in the suit won’t be easy.

Although the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA) is not pleased with the cuts to education funding, they do not plan to join Kortz and Gergely in their law suit against the governor.

“PSEA’s position is that if a lawsuit is filed then we’ll pay close attention to it and review our options then but for right now we’re focused on achieving legislative solutions to the school funding crisis and that’s where we are going to continue to keep our focus,” said PSEA Assistant Communication Director Wythe Keever.

If a laws is filed, then Keever said “we’ll consider our options then.”  However, he is not holding his breath.

Keever spoke of a similar lawsuit in PA called Pars v Ridge which took several years and was filed in the 1990s.  It took about 7-8 years to make it to the PA Supreme Court and the final determination was that although the PA school funding system is unfair it was the General Assembly’s responsibility to fix it.

“That’s why our focus will continue to be on the legislative solutions.”

According to Kortz their plan has been very well received by the school districts they have visited so far.

They are modeling their suit after one filed against New Jersey Gov. Chris Chrstie’s administration, which resulted in a judge’s order to restore $850 million in education to the state on May 24th.

“If you look at their constitution as it relates to education, it’s very very similar to ours:  to provide and maintain a fair and efficient education system,” reported Kortz.

There is also a similar case currently going on in Colorado.

As for now Kortz reported “there’s no time frame,” and they are currently focused on “going around soliciting support and trying to get the dialogue started.”

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