For the past decade, expenditures for educating students with disabilities in Pennsylvania have been climbing steadily, mirroring a national trend. But those rising costs have been almost entirely borne by local school districts.
By failing to keep pace with these expenditures, Pennsylvania has retreated from its responsibility to educate students with disabilities — despite the fact that the state remains legally responsible under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for ensuring that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.
Read our report, produced in partnership with the PA Schools Work coalition.
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.
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.
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:
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
This October 2018 report from the Education Law Center highlights how the rise in special education costs in districts across the state is outpacing state special education funding, creating new challenges for underfunded school districts.
Read the Report
See the district-level special education funding data
Despite prohibiting the suspension of Kindergarten students, the School District of Philadelphia continues to suspend students in first through fifth grades at alarming rates. Continue reading
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.
Education Law Center Staff Attorney Kristina Moon presented testimony on March 16, 2017 to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission on how the city’s schools can better meet the needs of students learning English, parents with limited English proficiency, and immigrant families.
This testimony was presented in January, 2017 at a town hall meeting hosted by Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym and the School District of Philadelphia. It raises a number of issues related to the educational needs of immigrant students, students learning English, and their families.
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 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.
The lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan has shined a light on a persistent, yet often invisible, problem in Pennsylvania. While many think of lead as an issue of the past, it is not. For many of Pennsylvania’s children, lead exposure continues to be a silent epidemic that plagues their communities and undermines their ability to learn. This brief, “Lead and Its Impact on Learning: What Schools, Parents & Policymakers Need to Know and Do,” written by Maura McInerney, Esq. and Alissa S. Werzen, M.D., was published February 11, 2016.
In January 2016, ELC submitted comments in response to the U.S. Department of Education’s request for recommendations prior to publishing proposed regulations to implement programs under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
December 11, 2015: Pennsylvania’s public school funding crisis cannot be resolved by legislating new costs that will eventually exceed new revenues. Unfortunately, the School Code bill recently passed by the Pennsylvania Senate and under consideration in the House of Representatives would do just that. Revenues provided under a bipartisan budget deal would be swallowed up by the new costs associated with rapid charter school expansion. Statewide, charter schools would be permitted to open new buildings, add new grades, and expand their enrollment with almost no limitations. In Philadelphia, where the district is already under state control and over a third of students already attend charter schools, the legislation would place numerous schools under a different state operator, this time the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and convert many of them into charter schools – all still without ensuring those schools have adequate funding.
In October 2015, the Education Law Center submitted comments to the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL) on their draft of a proposed policy announcement: “Reduction of Suspensions and Expulsions in Early Childhood Programs in Pennsylvania (15-#1)” [.doc]. The draft announcement was based, in part, on the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education policy guidance on the issue, released in December 2014: Policy Statement on Expulsion and Suspension in Early Childhood Settings.
ELC’s comments, available below, were informed by our expertise advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable children birth through age twenty one and our extensive experience listening to the hundreds of children and families we have served each year for the past four decades. These public comments are part of ELC’s larger body of work focused on reducing exclusionary discipline that is disproportionately used on vulnerable populations and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline that pushes at-risk youth into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
In Unlocking the Door to Learning: Trauma-Informed Classrooms & Transformational Schools, ELC Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney, Esq. and Amy McKlindon, M.S.W. discuss the impact of trauma on learning and what schools and educators can do to create a trauma-informed learning environment.
ELC Staff Attorney David Lapp’s recommendations on charter school legislation being considered by Pennsylvania State Legislature in June, 2015. Discussion includes a comparison of HB 530, PN 569 and SB 856, PN 968.
Education Law Center Staff Attorney David Lapp’s testimony to the Pennsylvania Basic Education Funding Commission on November 18, 2014, entitled “Time for a Rational Fix to the Special Education Tuition in Pennsylvania Charter Schools.”