Basic Education Funding Commission Plan Could Be Life-Changing for Pa. Students

The proposal from the bipartisan commission charged with developing a remedy for the state’s unconstitutional school funding system sets targets for adequate funding in every school district, based on student need and current spending in successful districts. In the proposal, adopted Jan. 11, 2024, commissioners acknowledge a total funding shortfall statewide of $5.4 billion and propose to close that shortfall incrementally over seven years. It is now up to the General Assembly and governor to adopt a budget and implementation plan.

Read our joint statement with our co-counsel, the Public Interest Law Center.

ELC Files Complaint Challenging Lack of Education at Allegheny County Jail

December 21, 2023 – A state administrative complaint filed today by the Education Law Center claims that school-age youths with disabilities at the Allegheny County Jail (ACJ) are not receiving a free appropriate public education in contravention of their rights.

Allegheny County Jail serves approximately 2,000 individuals each day who are awaiting adjudication of charges imposed against them. On any given day, this population includes 20-35 youths aged 15-17 and many more youths aged 18-21 years old – all of whom are entitled to a public education. A disproportionate number of these youths are likely students with disabilities who are entitled to receive a “free appropriate public education.” According to the National Disability Rights Network, young people with disabilities make up at least two-thirds of those involved in the juvenile justice system.

The complaint identifies Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) as the host district for students at ACJ responsible for providing educational services to school-age youths. PPS contracts with Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), which manages the school program at the jail.

“ELC filed this complaint to remedy systemic policies and practices that deprive students with disabilities of their right to a free appropriate public education. These policies clearly and unequivocally violate the federal and state disability laws and, due to systemic racism, disproportionately impact Black and Brown students who are victimized most by the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Maura McInerney, legal director at Education Law Center-PA.

According to the complaint, students aged 18 years and older are denied access to the on-grounds school program. Instead, upon turning 18, these students may be offered self-guided study packets to be used completely on their own with access to a teacher once a week; or they are offered a GED program.

“Students who do not have many high school credits are urged to ‘sign themselves out’ of high school and take the GED, regardless of their disability or need for support,” said McInerney. “In one case, a 19-year-old student with significant disabilities received no education at all during his time at ACJ from March to November 2023.”

“Youths in the juvenile justice system or who are placed in adult jails like Allegheny County cannot be deprived of their right to an education, yet that is precisely what is happening here, and it must be remedied,”  McInerney said.

See the complaint.

Civil Rights Complaint Challenges Discriminatory Policies in Pennridge School District

NAACP, PairUP Society, and Bucks County Families File Federal Civil Rights Complaint Challenging Discriminatory School Policies

November 15, 2023 – Several Bucks County families have joined with civil rights and advocacy groups to file a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of parents and students in the Pennridge School District, challenging the District’s discriminatory policies and its “hostile environment rife with race- and sex-based harassment.”

The complaint, filed today to the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) in the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, alleges racially discriminatory and anti-LGBTQ+ policies and practices in Pennridge schools, including a failure to address bullying of students of color and LGBTQ+ students, curriculum changes designed to remove discussion of racism and oppression from classrooms, banning of books that represent diverse experiences, and discriminatory bathroom and sports policies. The complaint asks the District to directly address race- and sex-based harassment to ensure that it does not recur and to adopt policies that affirmatively foster the inclusion of marginalized students.

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Bucks County NAACP, the PairUP Society, and affected families by the Education Law Center-PA and the Advocacy for Racial and Civil Justice Clinic of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

“For years, teachers, students of color, and LGBTQ+ students have reported race- and sex-based harassment, including students routinely using the N-word toward Black students and students threatening violence against LGBTQ+ students,” the complaint states. “But District officials have refused to remedy the systemic and pervasive forms of race- and sex-based harassment.”

“All students deserve safety and dignity at school,” said Karen Downer, president of the Bucks County NAACP, an organization represented in the complaint. “Unfortunately, Pennridge has created an environment that is hostile for some students because of their race, sex, or gender identity.” Title VI and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act prohibit discrimination based on these characteristics, and schools are legally required to take action when they are notified of a hostile environment that prevents some groups of students from fully participating in educational opportunities.

In an investigation that led to the filing of the complaint, advocates spoke to students who described persistent harassment that went unaddressed by administrators, in some cases pushing affected students to switch to online learning or to leave the District entirely. Because of privacy concerns, portions of the stories shared in the complaint are redacted, but they include students of color who faced racist comments at school, as well as LGBTQ+ students who experienced slurs, harassment, and threats of violence.

In response to her child’s experience hearing racial slurs and threats at school, Pennridge parent Adrienne King founded the PairUP Society, a nonprofit that supports underrepresented students facing bullying in schools. “No child should have to choose between their safety and their education,” she said. “Pennridge School District has a duty to protect students of all identities so that they are not prevented from learning simply because of who they are.”

Advocates say that Pennridge has failed to address race- and sex-based harassment, instead exacerbating the hostile environment by disbanding Diversity Equity and Inclusion initiatives, prohibiting teachers from displaying pride flags, limiting discussion of racism in the social studies curriculum, and removing diverse reading materials from the library.

“Our thanks to the brave students and advocates who have faced callous, hostile, and harmful school environments for years but did not give up in the fight to make their school communities better,” said attorney Ashli Giles-Perkins of the Education Law Center. “Pennridge School District has to address the racial and LGBTQ+ discrimination that continues to plague its school community. The situation calls for strong interventions from the federal government.”

“We hope that this lawsuit will be a step towards ensuring future students of all identities can learn and thrive at Pennridge schools,” said Annamarie Hufford-Bucklin, a Penn Carey Law student in the Advocacy for Racial and Civil Justice Clinic who worked on the complaint.

“The District has an obligation to comply with the Civil Rights Act and to ensure an environment that is inclusive and welcoming to all,” said Keith Matier, a law student in the Advocacy for Racial and Civil Justice Clinic who also worked on the complaint.

State Budget Nearly Finalized; Private School Vouchers Blocked … for Now 

Last night, the Pennsylvania House and Senate finally both approved a new state budget for 2023-24.

With our co-counsel at the Public Interest Law Center, we issued a joint statement on the state budget and the blocking of a private school voucher bill. Read our statement here.

There is critical work to be done in the months ahead to “devise a comprehensive, constitutionally compliant school funding plan to ensure, once and for all, that all children have access to the contemporary, effective system of public education that the constitution mandates, that our children need, and that the decision of the Commonwealth Court requires.”

The fight to fix PA’s unconstitutional funding system must and will continue.

School District of Philadelphia Ordered to Award Compensatory Education Services to Tens of Thousands of Students with Disabilities to Address COVID-Related Deprivations of FAPE

As a result of a complaint filed by ELC on behalf of all children with disabilities in the School District of Philadelphia (District), PDE’s Bureau of Special Education has ordered the District to review and assess data for all students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and Section 504 accommodations plans to determine necessary make-up services, or compensatory education, owed for deprivations of a free, appropriate public education stemming from COVID school closures. Both PDE and the U.S. Department of Education have made clear that when schools closed, school districts were required to provide compensatory education for denials of the educational rights of students with disabilities.  Following an investigation that spanned multiple months, PDE issued two Complaint Investigation Reports (IEP and 504) finding that the District did not provide these necessary make-up services or make required determinations for all students with disabilities. In the coming months, the District must convene IEP and Section 504 teams for more than 20,000 students with disabilities to determine the make-up services necessary to address educational deprivations stemming from the COVID closures. By September 29, the District must provide a summary of the IEP and 504 meetings and the determinations made to remedy FAPE during the pandemic. If you believe that your child is eligible for these make-up services, contact your child’s school or ELC’s Helpline for more information.

Notably, Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) is currently implementing “COVID Compensatory Services 2.0” to ensure that their students receive the make-up services to which they are legally entitled.  You can learn more this ongoing effort at including a helpful Parent Pre-Meeting Planning Checklist.   

ELC Comments on Title IX Proposed Rules Regarding Sex Discrimination in School Sports

In May 2023, Education Law Center PA submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rule on sex discrimination in school athletics under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. We support the proposed rule’s prohibition on categorical bans that would prevent transgender, intersex and nonbinary students from participating on teams aligned with their gender identity, and we support additional clarifications in the rule that would ensure K-12 students are not prevented from participation based on sex stereotypes.  This guidance is particularly important as transgender students in Pennsylvania are being targeted through proposed statewide legislation and multiple school districts considering or implementing policies that prevent students from participating in a school sports team, as well as other discriminatory policies. Playing sports is associated with higher grades and standardized test scores, and teaches students about teamwork and fosters connectedness to school community. All students deserve equal access to these benefits.

Chester County Intermediate Unit Approves $3 Million Settlement in Glen Mills Schools Class Action Suit to Benefit Former Students

In January 2023, a settlement fund was established for former Glen Mills Schools students. Those who are eligible may receive cash payments, compensatory education services, or a combination of these remedies.

Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Dechert LLP filed the proposed class action lawsuit in April 2019 on behalf of former students and their parents. The complaint was filed in the wake of the closing of the facility by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services in response to findings of pervasive abuse and intimidation against students by Glen Mills Schools residential staff and leadership.

The lawsuit alleged significant violations of the civil rights of former students, including that students were unsafe, subjected to extreme and sustained physical and emotional abuse, and deprived of any meaningful education. The abuse had a particularly dire impact on Black students, sent to Glen Mills in disproportionate numbers, as well as students with disabilities and special education needs, whose educational rights were ignored.

Visit to find some questions and answers about the settlement fund and agreement, including information about eligibility, background information about the Glen Mills Schools and the class action lawsuit, updates, application forms, and more details about how to apply.

Former students and their families who have additional questions or want to learn more about whether a former student is eligible for settlement funds created by the CCIU agreement may email [email protected] or leave a message on the Glen Mills Settlement Helpline at 267-515-6853.

ELC Praises New State Regulation Protecting Against Anti-LGBTQ and Racial Discrimination 

ELC applauds the adoption of the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission’s final regulation putting in place new significant new nondiscrimination protections for Pennsylvania students. It provides important protections for LGBTQ students, who have been increasingly subjected to discrimination, hostility, and exclusion in our schools. The new regulation also provides a more comprehensive definition of the term race, including ethnic characteristics and traits historically associated with race and specifically including hair texture and protective hairstyles. Read our full statement here.

Resources for Inclusive Schools and Honest Education

Welcoming and inclusive schools that provide honest, accurate information to our children give them the freedom to pursue their dreams and prepare them to fully participate in a diverse society.

Today there are organized national and local efforts targeting Black, Brown and LGBTQ students, erasing those populations from the curriculum and programs. These efforts threaten to undermine public schools by inflaming and dividing parents. They are banning books, banning the teaching of accurate history, and threatening teachers with lawsuits. They are trying to silence the voices of LGBTQ families and people of color. These actions are happening at school boards and in the state legislature.

Parents, students, faith leaders, business leaders, and community members working together can protect our schools, support student learning, and fight against these actions. We must make our voices heard.

ELC produces information and materials for parents, students, and community members to use as resources and samples in their advocacy efforts. Find them here.

ELC Comments on Title IX Proposed Rules – Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex

Education Law Center has submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed rules on Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. ELC’s concerns focus on the impact of the proposed amended regulations on students in Pennsylvania’s publicly-funded PreK-12 schools, including Black girls, who are more likely to be subject to sexual harassment and to be stereotyped and
disciplined for defending themselves against such harassment in school.

While we celebrate the progress that has been made in the 50 years since Title IX was passed, sex-based harassment and discrimination remains a very significant problem in preK-12 schools in Pennsylvania and across the country. Sexual harassment in K-12 schools is understudied, but nearly half of students experience sexual harassment at school, and 87% of those students said that the harassment had a negative effect on them.” In particular, Black girls are often ignored or punished when they complain to their schools about sex-based harassment and discrimination, which reinforces the under-reporting of these incidents.

Read ELC’s comments here.

Law Centers’ Joint Statement on 2022-23 State Budget

Legislative leaders announced an agreement on July 7, 2022, on the 2022-23 state budget, including a $525 million increase in state funding for basic education, $225 million for a Level Up supplement to the 100 most deeply underfunded school districts, a $100 million increase in special education funding, and $200 million in grants to school districts for mental health and school safety.

Attorneys from Education Law Center-PA and the Public Interest Law Center, representing school districts, parents, and organizations in a case challenging Pennsylvania’s system for funding public schools, released a joint statement, calling the increased education funding “an important step to start closing funding gaps,” but noting that “it does not ensure that students in every community can receive the high-quality education they’re entitled to under the state Constitution.”

Read the statement here.

ELC Open Letter to Hempfield School Board Calls for Rejection of Prohibition on Trans Athletes

Responding to to concerns from parents and community members in Hempfield (Pa.) School District, ELC sent this open letter that urges opposition to proposed prohibitions on transgender students’ participation in school sports. We call for the school board and district to reject the proposed policy because it illegally discriminates against transgender students. We urge the board to instead undertake its duty to affirmatively protect the rights of LGBTQ students. Read the open letter here.

U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Carson v. Makin Has Alarming Implications for PA

The June 21, 2022, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carson v. Makin mandates that Maine use its public school funds to educate children in private religious schools. Never before has the Supreme Court forced a state to fund religious education. The ruling is antithetical to our country’s history and its long-held commitment to a separation between church and state embedded in our federal and state constitutions. It also has important and potentially devasting implications for Pennsylvania’s students.

Pennsylvania’s public schools serve the vast majority of the Commonwealth’s children. Public schools, unlike private religious schools, are prohibited from excluding children or discriminating against students and they are also held accountable for their use of public funds. While tax credits in Pennsylvania are permitted to be used to support private religious schools, public school funds are not, and this is prohibited by our state Constitution. The Supreme Court ruling is a threat to that public school system in many ways. Read more.

We Must Address Racist Violence, School Shootings [Trigger Warning: Gun Violence]

We join in grieving for all the victims of the deadly racist attacks in Buffalo that targeted the city’s Black East Side community. We vow to continue to challenge racist ideologies that motivate these hate-filled attacks.

We also join in mourning the senseless violence in Uvalde, Texas, resulting in the death of at least 19 children and 2 adults at Robb Elementary School. We vow to continue to do our part to seek to stop gun violence and the toll it continues to take in our schools and in our communities. The time for systemic and broad reform is now.

Schools play a critical role in helping students learn how to relate to one another and appreciate our common humanity.  Teachers are talking with students about how to respond to events like the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings. It is vital that these classroom conversations be framed with values of justice, anti-racism, and respect for groups that have been marginalized. In the current, politically polarized climate that grants legitimacy to racist views that have no place, we must counter these violent, hate-filled attacks and recognize their connection to broader challenges to school district curriculum and attempts to prohibit teaching truth about racism and oppression.

Moreover, we know that adding more police into schools will not make our schools safer. Schools must be nurturing places of learning for all students. Our leaders owe it to children across the country to work harder to ensure our schools can be just that. Our students need trauma-informed and culturally affirming supports and restorative approaches in schools.

We continue to be alarmed by ill-informed responses to school shootings that result in an increase in police presence in schools or calls to make our schools look and feel more like prisons. Recent history has taught us this does not prevent horrific school shootings but leads to an uptick in arrests for low-level offenses, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown students and students with disabilities. The time for action by all of us is now. We need effective community-based solutions to support and heal our school communities; police are not the answer.

We mourn for the families in Buffalo, Uvalde, and all over our nation grappling with unimaginable loss as we challenge our leaders to address the root causes of gun violence and racism exemplified by these most recent devastating incidents.

Read ELC’s New Special Education Funding Report

The Education Law Center’s new report Fixing the Special Education Funding Gap details the large decline in the state share of special education funding over the past decade. Inadequate funding for basic education and special education programs creates a dual funding gap, one that particularly affects students in low wealth school districts. These districts serve most of Pennsylvania’s Black and Brown students who are disproportionately impacted by the state’s underfunding of public education.  

Read the report here

Find data for each of Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts here

Read the press release here.  

View a recording of the press conference here

Join ELC in support of the RISE Act

ELC has long supported Respond, Innovate, Succeed, and Empower (RISE) Act  – a federal bill which would allow students with disabilities to present an IEP or 504 plan as proof of a disability when requesting accommodations in college.  The bill is now in the House Education and Labor’s Mental Health Package (see H.R. 7780) and will be marked up tomorrow! We urge you to support the RISE Actwhich would ensure that students with disabilities receive the accommodations they need to succeed in college! 

On school funding, Pennsylvania is not doing its job. That’s why we’re in court.

Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr wrote, “All Pennsylvanians need to know that our state is failing by inadequately and inequitably funding our schools. Pennsylvania once made a legislative commitment that 50% of education funding would come from the state ‒ but that commitment was not enforced and was abandoned decades ago.” Read her full op-ed published in Pennlive on November 5, 2021.

Learn more about our case here.

Gov. Wolf Signs Credit Transfer Bill

Students facing some of the greatest barriers to timely high school graduation finally get some relief. On January 26, Governor Wolf signed SB 324 into law as Act 1 of 2022, bringing a successful conclusion to a 10-year effort. The law requires school districts to provide one-on-one assistance to students who are at risk of losing course credits as a result of foster care or juvenile justice placements or who experience homelessness. Join us in celebrating this important victory!