Appeal from the Order of the Commonwealth Court entered September 4, 2008 at No. 371 MD 2007.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mr. Justice Saylor
CASTILLE, C.J., SAYLOR, EAKIN, BAER, TODD, McCAFFERY, ORIE MELVIN, JJ.
This is a direct appeal from the order of the Commonwealth Court upholding the constitutionality of certain portions of Act 45 of 2007, which amended Pennsylvania's Public School Code of 1949.*fn1
According to the facts as stipulated by the parties, in July 2000, then-Secretary of Education Eugene W. Hickok notified the Duquesne City School District ("Duquesne") that, due to its history of low test performance, it was being placed on the education empowerment list, as authorized by Section 1703-B of the Education Empowerment Act.*fn2 See 24 P.S. §17-1703-B. Thereafter, in October 2000, Secretary Hickok declared Duquesne a financially-distressed school district under Sections 691-697 of the School Code, id. §§6-691 - 6-697. Consequently, a special board of control was appointed to manage and operate the district. See id. §6-692. On June 5, 2007, Duquesne's control board eliminated the district's high school, an action that was approved by the Department of Education. Eighteen professional and temporary professional employees, represented by Appellee Duquesne Education Association, were furloughed as a result. Duquesne did not enter into any agreements with neighboring school districts for the enrollment of its high school students.
Approximately six weeks later, the General Assembly enacted Act 45 of 2007,*fn3 which, inter alia, added Sections 1607.1 and 1113(b.2) to the School Code. See 24 P.S. §§16-1607.1, 11-1113(b.2). Section 1607.1, entitled, "Distressed school districts and student attendance in other districts," provides, in relevant part:
If a third class school district in which a public high school is not maintained operates and, for at least five consecutive years, has operated under a special board of control under section 692, has been placed on the education empowerment list under section 1703-B, has, with the approval of the secretary, curtailed its educational program by eliminating its high school and has not assigned its high school pupils to another school district or school districts and provided adequate transportation in a manner pursuant to section 1607, the secretary shall have the following authority:
(1) To designate two or more school districts that shall accept on a tuition basis the high school students of a distressed school district, so long as a designated school district's border is no more than three miles from the border of the distressed school district. Such designation shall occur no later than fifteen (15) days after the effective date of this section. No designated school district shall be assigned more than one hundred sixty-five (165) students from the distressed school district.
24 P.S. §16-1607.1(a).*fn4 Section 1113(b.2) states that employees furloughed as a result of the closure of a Section 1607.1 district's high school must be hired on a preferential basis at school districts within three miles of the distressed district. See id. §11-1113(b.2).
Duquesne is the only school district in Pennsylvania that meets all of the criteria set forth in Section 1607.1(a). It is the only third-class school district on the empowerment list (although five other third-class districts -- Aliquippa, Clairton City, Steelton-Highspire, Sto-Rox, and Wilkinsburg -- were previously on the list). Duquesne is also the only third-class school district that is operated by a special board of control. Appellants West Mifflin Area School District, East Allegheny School District, and South Allegheny School District are all located within three miles of Duquesne, and thus, are potential recipients of Duquesne's high school students.
Appellants filed an amended petition for review in the Commonwealth Court's original jurisdiction, seeking injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment stating that Sections 1607.1 and 1113(b.2) comprise "special laws" in violation of Article III, Section 32 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Section 32 provides, in relevant part:
The General Assembly shall pass no local or special law in any case which has been or can be provided for by general law and specifically the General Assembly shall not pass any local or special law . . . [r]egulating the affairs of . . . school districts[.]
PA. CONST. art. III, §32 (emphasis added). In the petition, Appellants also claimed that Section 1607.1 violates Article II, Section 1, which vests the legislative power of the Commonwealth in the General Assembly.*fn5 The petition named as respondents (Appellees herein): Dr. Gerald L. Zahorchak in his official capacity as the Secretary of Education; the Department of Education (collectively, the "Department"); Duquesne; and the Duquesne Education Association. Appellees filed an answer and new matter, to which Appellants responded. Thereafter, the parties jointly filed a ...