Two state House lawmakers are preparing to file a lawsuit against the commonwealth to force a change in education funding. They say the rules behind which districts get a bigger piece of the pie are unfair to areas that have experienced huge population growth.
The lawsuit is centered on a state law that in 1991 made it illegal for any school district to get less state money than it got the year before.
The lawmaker behind the lawsuit, Rep. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe), says districts that have seen their populations decline or stay about the same are sitting pretty, but he says areas with massive growth are forced to hike property taxes to pay for underfunded schools. He gave his house as an example.
"I'll say $250,000 house. I've said this many times. [It was] built five years ago, today it's worth about $150,000 and it's got an $11,000 property tax bill on it. $11,000 property taxes. You're really a prisoner in your own home," he said.
Scavello says that law is unfair to areas like his Monroe County district, which has seen huge growth.
"If you were in an area that lost population, you're still getting funded at a 1990 census, you're doing damn well," he said. "If you're in an area that stayed the same, you didn't lose anything to get funded, but if you're in an area like mine … see, this district's population has tripled … your base is still the 1990 census."
Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York County) says the lawsuit is an attempt to get the courts to force the legislature to do what its members can't do on their own: vote for a bill that means they'll get less of that state money that keeps property taxes in their school districts so low.
"When you can take a house from York County that's paying $6,000 in property taxes a year, and go look at another county that has lost students, and they're paying $1,000 a year in property taxes, who in his right mind, in all honesty, is truthfully going to vote against his own districts?" Saylor said.
Scavello recently spoke out in support of House Bill 1776 that would eliminate school property taxes, which he says have skyrocketed in Monroe County and elsewhere to cover school district deficits. He says if the court doesn't force the Legislature to revisit its education funding formula, any effort to vaporize property taxes is doomed.
Several state lawmakers representing growing regions in York, Berks, and Carbon counties say they support the lawsuit. Another House Republican is joining the lawsuit, but Scavello says the legal fees will come out of his personal pocket.