For Sheila Armstrong, one of seven parents named in a lawsuit filed Monday that claims the state's funding of school districts is unconstitutional, the issue is very personal.
"I feel as though this is my duty," said Armstrong, 37, the mother of two boys. "This is all about the kids. Children cannot fight for themselves."
The lawsuit was filed by attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia (PILCO), Philadelphia's Education Law Center (ELC), the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference on behalf of parents and school districts across the state. It says current school district funding violates the Pennsylvania constitution's mandate to provide a "thorough and efficient" public school system.
"The massive financial crisis that's happening in our public schools is not isolated to one or two or even a dozen school districts," said ELC lawyer David Lapp. "This is massively affecting hundreds of school districts."
Armstrong, of North Philadelphia, lives with the results of low school funding.
She said just helping her son with homework is hard because he can't bring his books home from school.
"When I asked my son, 'Where are your notes?' He showed me one piece of paper," she said. "They couldn't bring the textbooks home, they have to leave them at school. Then I learned some kids at the school have to share books."
Her son also is a transfer, because his old elementary school was closed due to cuts.
"He had a system and a structure. Now he has to walk all these extra blocks to get to school," she said.
The lawsuit says that conditions like these make it effectively impossible for students in underfunded school districts to succeed and claims the state must remedy the situation.
"What we're asking the court is to tell the legislature to go back and do their jobs ... and make sure kids get enough money," said PILCO executive director Jennifer Clarke.
"I'm not asking for trillions and billions of dollars," Armstrong said (see her video testimonial below). "I just want what is right for our children and to make sure they get the quality education that they deserve."
The state has "adopted an irrational andinequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds schooldistricts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on thebasis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts," the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit seeks for state officials to "design, enact, and implement a schoolfinancing arrangement consistent with the [state] Constitution," which in Article III, Section 14, calls for "a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs ofthe Commonwealth."
Currently the state does not have a permanent funding formula, but re-appropriates funds for each district each year.
The suit calls it an "irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that ... discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts."
Per pupil funding goes from $28,000 in wealthy districts to $9,800 in poorer districts.
State officials will file their response to the suit in court after reviewing the complaint.
More information about the lawsuit is available online at edfundinglawsuit.wordpress.com.