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January 10, 2016

Pennsylvania school group sues Wolf, legislature over budget impasse

Lawsuit seeks release of funding and payment for borrowed money

An education organization is suing Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and state lawmakers over a still absent budget in an effort to release funds owed to districts.

The Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) filed the lawsuit Friday against Wolf, the GOP-controlled House and Senate, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and state Treasurer Timothy Reese, saying lawmakers were violating a section of the state's constitution that says the General Assembly "shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."

In addition to asking the Commonwealth Court to release the funds, the PSBA is seeking compensation for the $1 billion borrowed by districts since the budget impasse began this past summer.

“While our elected officials have continued to play politics with our state budget, school districts and all Pennsylvania students have been made to suffer," said PSBA Executive Director Nathan Mains in a statement.

The lawsuit claims districts are incurring "unnecessary debt," adding that some have been unable to pay their vendors.

The Associated Press reports that Wolf responded to the lawsuit by saying he shared the group's frustration, citing his previous attempts at pushing through increases in education spending.

In December, Wolf and Senate Republicans had seemingly agreed on a compromise, with the governor getting his desired $350 million increase in funding for schools and the GOP nixing proposed tax increases, including one on the state's natural gas industry.

However, the House scoffed at the agreement, seeking more cuts in taxes and spending. After negotiations spilled over to the holiday season, Wolf rejected parts of what he called a "pretend" budget from Republicans but freed up emergency funding for schools to keep them running.

According to the PSBA's lawsuit, it is unknown if that funding will stop the eventual closings of any school districts.

Before the emergency funding was released, Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite warned that city schools could run out of money and close by the end of January without state funding.