School Funding Lawsuits Move the Needle on Fairness

Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr wrote about the history of school funding lawsuits that have been filed in dozens of states besides Pennsylvania. “We see from the experience of other states that school funding lawsuits have been strikingly successful at moving the needle toward fairness,” she wrote. “Decisions in such lawsuits spur more state revenue for schools, resulting in better academic and life outcomes for children.” Read her full column from the public interest page of the Sept. 20, 2021, Legal Intelligencer.

Trial Date in School Funding Lawsuit Now Scheduled for Nov. 12

Despite an unanticipated one-month delay, public school students in Pennsylvania will soon have their day in court.  Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer has scheduled a trial start date of November 12, 2021, in our historic lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system, William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al.

The judge announced the new trial date in a September 17, 2021 order. Trial was previously scheduled to begin on October 12.

Attorneys expect the trial in Harrisburg to run through December. A final pretrial conference was scheduled for Sept. 29. Read our latest press release about the case.

To stay abreast of the case, go to the Fund Our Schools PA website, a joint project of the Education Law Center and our co-counsel, the Public Interest Law Center. For case documents, go to our Cases page.

Judge Sets Oct. 12 Start Date for Trial in Historic Pa. School Funding Lawsuit

Public school students in Pennsylvania will soon have their day in court.  A Commonwealth Court judge has scheduled a trial start date of October 12, 2021, in our historic lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system, William Penn School District et al. v. Pennsylvania Department of Education et al.

Attorneys expect the trial in Harrisburg to last through much of the fall. A final pretrial conference was scheduled for Sept. 29. Read our press release about the trial and the judge’s order.

To stay abreast of the case, go to the Fund Our Schools PA website, a joint project of the Education Law Center and our co-counsel, the Public Interest Law Center. For case documents, go to our Cases page.

Historic school funding trial date moved to Oct. 12

There is a new start date for the trial in our historic lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system. The date is moved back a month to Oct.12.

The later date allow superintendents and other petitioners who filed the case against state officials additional time to provide up-to-date specifics to supplement the evidence and testimony gathered during earlier stages of the litigation.

Read coverage of the lawsuit and the impending trial from the Times Leader here.

Pa.’s poorest school districts will get more money next year. Public education advocates say the budget still falls short.

Pennsylvania’s state legislature approved a new budget for 2021-22 but chose to put billions into a Rainy Day Fund rather than addressing the urgent need to address adequacy gaps facing many school districts. Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr, like other advocates, sees the budget deal as a missed opportunity.

Read coverage of the new budget and our school funding lawsuit from the June 28, 2021 Philadelphia Inquirer here.

ELC Applauds Mask Mandate for Schools, Urges Swift Implementation

The Education Law Center applauded the Wolf administration’s Aug. 31 announcement of a universal statewide mask mandate for all Pennsylvania public schools, effective September 7. The order will create safe learning environments during the pandemic while establishing appropriate exceptions for students and school staff with qualifying disabilities. Masks have proven to be highly effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19 in schools, and the need for masking is well-established.

ELC, alongside four dozen organizations from across Pennsylvania, sent letters to the governor, secretary of health, secretary of education, and leaders of the General Assembly on Aug. 30, requesting this mask mandate.

Read our full statement on the mask mandate.

Level Up: A Campaign to Boost 100 Severely Underfunded PA School Districts

Education Law Center, along with a coalition of more than a dozen education advocacy organizations from across the commonwealth, has launched a campaign to increase state funding for the 100 most underfunded school districts in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania has some of the nation’s widest gaps between wealthy and poor school districts.

The focus is legislation introduced on April 14, 2020, by Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Allentown) to create a new funding stream targeted at the most underfunded districts. Read the press release.

Funding Lawsuit Moves Closer to Trial with Ruling That Parents Will Remain in Case

In a ruling March 8 by Commonwealth Court, a judge held that two Pennsylvania parents who were among those who filed the landmark lawsuit in 2014 challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system as unconstitutional will be able to pursue their claims, even though their children have now graduated from high school. The ruling is a victory for parent petitioners Tracey Hughes of Wilkes-Barre and Sheila Armstrong of Philadelphia. The court also set a May 20 scheduling conference to determine a trial date for the case later this year.

Read our press release.

Help Make PA Schools More Supportive of Immigrant, Refugee Families

Do you want to help make your school district more welcoming and supportive for immigrant and refugee students and families?  Education Law Center is partnering with the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) to collect anonymous and confidential responses from immigrant and refugee students in grades 4-12 and parents with children in grades K-12 to better understand their educational experiences in Pennsylvania. Your input is critical to putting together policy recommendations for your local school district and schools to ensure that all immigrant, asylee, and refugee students and their families are welcome at school. PICC is a statewide coalition with over 50 community-based organizations supporting immigrant communities.

The deadline to complete these surveys, which are available in seven languages, is March 15, 2021.

Welcoming Schools Campaign Student Surveys

English: http://bit.ly/Student-WSC-English

Spanish: http://bit.ly/Student-WSC-Spanish

Mandarin Chinese: http://bit.ly/Student-WSC-Chinese

Vietnamese: http://bit.ly/Student-WSC-Vietnamese

Arabic: http://bit.ly/Student-WSC-Arabic

Haitian Creole: http://bit.ly/Student-WSC-HaitianCreole

Somali: http://bit.ly/Student-WSC-Somali

Welcoming Schools Campaign Parent Surveys

English: http://bit.ly/Parent-WSC-English

Spanish: http://bit.ly/Parent-WSC-Spanish

Mandarin Chinese: http://bit.ly/Parent-WSC-Chinese

Vietnamese: http://bit.ly/Parent-WSC-Vietnamese

Arabic: http://bit.ly/Parent-WSC-Arabic

Haitian Creole: http://bit.ly/Parent-WSC-HaitianCreole

Somali: http://bit.ly/Parent-WSC-Somali

National Report Exposes Harmful Academic Credit Transfer Policies, Practices for Youth in Juvenile Justice System

Over-the shoulder pic of someone dong homework.


Philadelphia, PA (October 8, 2020): Juvenile Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Education Law Center-PA have released the report Credit Overdue: How States Can Mitigate Academic Credit Transfer Problems for Youth in the Juvenile Justice System. The report details the problems facing tens of thousands of youth on any given day in our country when it comes to their educational experiences in juvenile justice facilities. While these facilities provide classes to prevent young people from falling behind in their school­work, many discover that when they return to school they will not receive full academic credit for their completed coursework, that there is no record of their credits, or that their credits will not count toward graduation.

The lack of attention to ensuring that credits are awarded for coursework performed has serious educational and emotional consequences that put graduation and opportunity further out of reach.

Read our news release and the full report. Here is a fact sheet with highlights from the report.

ELC Urges PA Officials to Instruct Schools On How To Ensure Equity During Closures

For immediate release: April 3, 2020

Following a March letter on concerns of educational equity signed by more than 80 organizations, a letter from the Education Law Center this week is urging Gov. Wolf and Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera to provide “clear, detailed guidance” to school districts on what steps they can take to ensure that all student populations are being supported in their education during COVID-19 school closures.

The latest letter highlights innovative strategies and promising practices that, if promoted by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, could help ensure equitable access to education for underserved student populations – including children with disabilities, English learners, children of color, children experiencing homelessness, children living in poverty, and children in the child welfare, juvenile justice and mental health systems.

“COVID-19 school closures present exceptional and daunting challenges for school administrators, teachers, staff, students and parents, as well as the Department,” the letter said, applauding state officials for their efforts to ensure continuity of education. “Your guidance at this time is essential to enabling our schools to meet these challenges as school districts, charter schools, and Intermediate Units work vigorously to meet the needs of their students.”

Detailed guidance from PDE is needed to “ensure … compliance with federal protections for vulnerable student populations, provide needed support to students and parents, and deliver individualized programming and a free appropriate public education for students with disabilities,” the letter says.

Legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Wolf, Act 13, instructs PDE to provide guidance to districts on what it means to ensure “continuity of education.” ELC’s letter asks PDE to encourage schools to provide planned instruction, rather than solely enrichment activities, and points to Pennsylvania districts that are doing so.

The letter also highlights specific strategies and recommended procedures for providing individualized planning for students with disabilities and equitable access for English learners and students experiencing homelessness, as well as ensuring continuity of education for system-involved youth in residential placements.

“We are hopeful that PDE will provide clear, detailed guidance to districts to help ensure our most underserved students can access education during COVID-19 school closures” says ELC’s legal director Maura McInerney.

Read our letter here.

Education Law Center Recent Successes

ELC’s work is organized around three priority areas: fighting for fair funding, ensuring equal access, and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. We have made important progress in those areas in recent months.

Read more about our work and highlights of the past year.

ELC Files Complaint Against Charter School, Challenging Refusal to Admit Child with Disability

ELC filed a complaint in Pennsylvania’s Common Pleas Court on October 17, 2019, on behalf of a first-grade student who was illegally denied enrollment in a public charter school on the basis of her disability. ELC contends that this action by Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School (MCSCS) of Philadelphia violates the child’s rights under state law.

“This is a glaring example of explicit and illegal discrimination,” said Margie Wakelin, staff attorney at the Education Law Center. “Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case. Charter schools, just like district schools, need to serve students with disabilities and cannot turn them away.”

ELC filed a petition for a preliminary injunction along with the complaint, seeking a court order directing MCSCS to enroll the student immediately. MCSCS enrolls a tiny percentage of students with disabilities, far below the average percentage of students with IEPs for all charter schools in Philadelphia.

Read our news release here. Read the complaint here.

Read media coverage here, here, and here.

Advocating for Legislative Action to Address Underfunding

ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley was among the panelists who testified to the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing on fair education funding in Coatesville on Aug. 12, attended by over 100 people. Highlighting statements from parents and superintendents across the state, she spoke to the devastating impact of state underinvestment in education, particularly on poor communities of color. Her testimony urged the General Assembly to increase funding for classroom instruction and target state increases to chronically underfunded communities.

Read her testimony here and a news article here.

Lunch-Shaming Must End

In a July 28, 2019, letter to PennLive, ELC legal director Maura McInerney questions new language in the Pennsylvania School Code that allows school districts to serve “alternative lunches” to students whose families have lunch debt. Read her letter.

Open Letter to PA Special Education Funding Commission from PA Schools Work Campaign

The Special Education Funding Commission of the Pennsylvania legislature reconvened August 27, 2019, for the first time in nearly six years to examine the impact of the 2014 funding formula that now directs state special education funding. Education Law Center joined with the statewide PA Schools Work campaign to issue an open letter with a set of recommendations to the commission for addressing the continued state underfunding of education.

Over the past decade, the state’s contribution to special education costs has dropped from a one-third share to just 22%. The letter urges a “fuller and fairer allocation of funding for special education.” The commission will be meeting and holding hearings over a three-month period.

Read the letter.

Education Law Center Applauds Gov. Wolf’s Call for Charter Reform

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announced August 13 that he is preparing to introduce regulations and propose new legislation governing the state’s charter schools. The Education Law Center shares his sense of urgency in addressing the issues of poor academic performance, equity concerns, and rapidly growing costs of charters and looks forward to working with state officials to implement changes that rectify these problems. Our statement is here.

Governor’s Executive Order Calls for Reform of Residential Placements: A Joint Statement With Juvenile Law Center

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order on July 31, creating a new Office of Advocacy and Reform, with a new Child Advocate position to act as an ombudsman for youth in the state’s residential facilities. The order establishes a 25-member Council on Reform, tasked with developing a report and recommendations by Nov. 1 to ensure the safety and support of children and adults in residential care. ELC and Juvenile Law Center issued a joint statement supporting the governor’s action and highlighting the importance of reducing reliance on residential placements and providing a quality education for children placed in such settings.

CeaseFirePA, Education Law Center Statement on Bill Authorizing Arming More School Personnel

Senate Bill 621, which broadens the categories of school personnel who can carry weapons in schools, approved by the Pennsylvania legislature, was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on July 2, 2019. The Education Law Center and CeaseFirePA had opposed the bill and urged the governor to veto it. In a joint statement on the bill, the two organizations point out that Gov. Wolf’s interpretation of the bill is that it excludes non-security personnel from being armed in schools. The bill, however, does allow school security guards, including personnel from private security firms, to carry weapons in schools.

Read the joint statement.

Funding Increases in PA Budget Are Welcomed but Not Sufficient, ELC Says

The tentative budget agreement between Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf and legislative leaders that was announced on June 24 includes a significant boost in special education funding. There are other bright spots in the budget, but state education funding still falls far below what is needed. ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr issued a statement on the budget on June 25, 2019.

Read the statement.