Report: Exclusionary Discipline Harms Students of Color, Students with Disabilities, and LGBTQ Students

A new report recommending strategies for policy makers to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and address disparities in school discipline was issued by the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in April 2021. The report, which draws on testimony from 20 local and national experts at two public briefing sessions, is called “Disparate and Punitive Impact of Exclusionary Practices on Students of Color, Students with Disabilities and LGBTQ Students in Pennsylvania Public Schools.”

The report presents data illustrating the discriminatory nature of exclusionary discipline and its disruptive and harmful impact. Recommendations include banning exclusionary discipline for nonviolent offenses, implementing positive behavioral supports and trauma-informed restorative practices, improving data collection, and increasing funding to devote to creating positive school climates. ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr served as a member of the advisory committee.

Read the report here.

Statement on Pennsylvania General Assembly Adoption of FY21 Budget

In a statement on the Pennsylvania budget, ELC welcomes the news from the General Assembly that state funding for basic education, special education, and pre-K in the coming school year will not be reduced from current levels, despite the dropoff in state revenues. Schools are already facing substantial decreases in revenue from local sources due to the economic downturn – as well as added costs associated with COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning. The state must promptly find ways to provide additional support to the struggling, underfunded school districts whose students have been hardest hit by this crisis. Read the full statement here.

Analysis: Gov. Wolf’s Proposed 2020-21 Education Budget

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year that includes increases for education — increases that are critical for children in Pennsylvania. But they will not be enough to provide children across the state with the resources they need to succeed in school.

Our budget brief reviews what the governor’s budget proposes for education, why this matters, and what happens now.

Read the budget brief here.

Report Highlights Dangers, Lack of Educational Opportunity in Pa. Residential Child Welfare Facilities

This report by Children’s Rights and the Education Law Center-PA, entitled Unsafe and Uneducated: Indifference to Dangers in Pennsylvania’s Residential Child Welfare Facilities, raises serious concerns about the safety of Pennsylvania’s residential placements for youth in foster care – and about the quality of education provided there.

In 2017, more than 3,700 youth in Pennsylvania foster care were in residential facilities, so that 47% of youth aged 14-21 in Pennsylvania foster care lived in these facilities, compared to 34% nationwide. Because of a lack of adequate oversight by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, these facilities expose children to harmful treatment, including verbal, physical, and sexual abuse and mistreatment from staff and other children.

The report highlights that the “on-grounds” schools that most children in these residential facilities attend similarly lack proper oversight from the Pennsylvania Department of Education. These schools typically offer inferior education with curriculum far below grade level, largely ignoring the heightened learning needs of these students. Read our joint release summarizing the report.

Read this December 2018 report.

Testimony to Philadelphia Board of Education Calling for Greater Equity in High School Selection

ELC was invited to provide testimony in October 2018 regarding the high school selection process to the Student Achievement and Supports Committee of the Board of Education for the School District of Philadelphia. Staff Attorney Kristina Moon provided written and oral testimony describing concerns from families and advocates about the district’s failure to implement the LeGare consent decree that requires the district provide equal opportunity for students with disabilities and English Learners to attend special admission high schools. ELC also called upon the Board to consider changes to the selective admission criteria that could allow students from neighborhood schools with less resources a more equitable chance to attend selective high schools.  Additionally, ELC urged the Board to consider whether charter schools are equitably serving all students when reviewing applications for renewal or expansion. Read the full testimony here:

Philadelphia School Board Testimony on the Need for Additional Resources for Students with Disabilities

At the October 2018 action meeting of the Philadelphia School Board, ELC offered testimony supporting a proposal that would increase transitional training and support services for students with disabilities.  Federal and state law require transition planning for every child beginning at age 14, including requiring school districts to provide every child with a disability with comprehensive services that will help them transition from school to post-school-life.  Continue reading

ELC Recommends Revisions to PA’s ESSA Plan to Close the Achievement Gap for Vulnerable Students

On August 31, 2017, ELC submitted comments in response to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s request for input to its proposed Consolidated State Plan (“State Plan” or “Plan”) pursuant to Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the nation’s major education law.  Highlighting Pennsylvania’s historic opportunity to create a new path to advance educational equity and close the achievement gap for at-risk students, ELC’s comments underscore the need for rigorous, uniform goals and standards applicable to all students, the development of more detailed measures and strategies to determine when and how to intervene to support low-performing schools, the need to address school climate issues and further refine chronic absenteeism as a metric, the need for greater state oversight to implement specific provisions of ESSA, and advance the progress of educationally at-risk students, particularly students in foster care, those experiencing homelessness, students with disabilities, English learners (“ELs”), and youth in and exiting the juvenile justice system.

Summany here

Full text of ELC’s Comments here.

Testimony of Maura McInerney, Esq. before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission, July 6, 2017

On July 6, 2017, ELC Staff Attorney Maura McInerney provided testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission opposing a proposed special education plan that would have substantially increased the provision of special education services in segregated settings.  After substantial opposition from advocates for students with disabilities, the Commission adopted a scaled-down version of its plan.

Letter to Sec. Rivera re: Denial of FAPE

ELC co-signed this letter to Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera in response to the denial of students’ right to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in the School District of Philadelphia in June, 2017.

April 2017 Letter to School Reform Commission Regarding Camelot and Charter School Renewals

ELC wrote this letter to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission in reference to SRC Resolution B-4 on alternative education programs in April 2017, urging the Commission to postpone consideration of the Camelot contract to allow additional time for review and discussion and to raise significant concerns about the multi-year charter school renewals scheduled for a vote.

April 2017 Letter to PA House Regarding HB 97

A responsible charter school law must empower local governing bodies to strategically control charter growth as a tool to increase quality options and improve our system of public education for all communities. The charter school law should not force blind expansion on already burdened systems and compel the loss of neighborhood schools options. The Education Law Center wrote this letter to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in April 2017 urging them to oppose HB 97, the purported charter reform legislation.

Please also view our fact sheet on HB 97.

Money Matters in Education Justice: Addressing Racial and Class Inequities in Pennsylvania’s School Funding System

March, 2017

The Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees that children across the state have access to a “thorough and efficient” system of public education, one that enables them to meet comprehensive state academic standards and graduation requirements. Despite this constitutional mandate, hundreds of thousands of children—particularly children of color and children in poorer communities—are denied the school resources they need to be successful in school and beyond. This Education Law Center report details the race and class inequities in Pennsylvania’s school funding system, building on ELC’s 2013 report “Funding, Formulas, and Fairness.”

Download the full report, “Money Matters in Education Justice.”

Download the Executive Summary.

Read our press release.


Inequities in Pennsylvania’s Charter Sector: Segregation by Disability

Published in February 2017, this analysis explains how Pennsylvania’s charter schools serve disproportionately fewer of the state’s vulnerable students than traditional public schools, too often segregating students by type of disability. Federal and state laws are clear that charter schools must provide quality public options for all pupils. With respect to students eligible for special education under Pennsylvania law and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the data demonstrates that, even where charter schools are serving proportionate numbers of students with disabilities in line with their share of the overall student population, the charter sector by and large does not educate students with disabilities who require higher cost aids and services—e.g. students with intellectual disabilities, serious emotional disturbance, and multiple disabilities. Instead, the charter sector serves students with disabilities who require lower cost aids and services, such as speech and language impairment and specific learning disabilities.

ELC Comments to Proposed Regulations to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

ELC submitted these comments to the U.S. Department of Education in response to the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) published in the Federal Register on May 31, 2016 regarding the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Through these comments, we highlight the critical need for greater accountability of schools serving educationally at risk students, especially students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and youth involved in and reentering from the juvenile justice system.

Testimony to Pittsburgh Public Schools on need for inclusive policies and reduction in exclusionary discipline (May 2016)

In May 2016, ELC Staff Attorney Cheryl Kleiman testified at a Pittsburgh Public School Board hearing about the need to co-construct policies and practices with students and parents that decrease the use of exclusionary discipline and increase educational outcomes and opportunities for all students. ELC also urged the board to adopt a proposed Nondiscrimination Policy for Transgender Students and elevate the Program for Students with Exceptionalities to a cabinet level position to reflect the District’s commitment to inclusion for students with disabilities.