Federal and State Law Mandate Equitable Access to Sports for LGBTQ+ Students

Policies that discriminate against transgender students by prohibiting them from engaging in sports in accordance with their gender identity violate Title IX’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex. Affirming the identities of transgender, nonbinary, and intersex youth in sports participation is a critical part of improving physical and mental health outcomes for these students and allows them to learn and thrive in school.

Read this analysis urging school boards to comply with their clear legal obligations under federal and state law to reject policies that discriminate against transgender students and to affirmatively and proactively promote healthy, welcoming, and inclusive school environments where all students can thrive.

Sex- and Gender-Based Discrimination in Students’ Facilities Access Violates State and Federal Law

There is no legal basis for a school district to prohibit students from using the school bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. To do so flies in the face of direct and controlling legal precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court and many federal courts, including in Pennsylvania, have recognized and affirmed that such discrimination is unlawful.

Read our statement urging all school districts to uphold their nondiscrimination obligations under the law and reject policies or practices that restrict students’ access to facilities based on sex or gender identity.

Book Bans in Schools Violate Students’ First Amendment Rights

Book bans are on the rise across the nation, and Pennsylvania ranks third among the states in terms of most books banned. Book bans not only deprive students of important learning opportunities; they directly undermine student self-esteem, further erase historically marginalized identities, and treat students of color and students who identify as LBGTQ+ as inferior and unwelcome.

Read our statement urging school boards to uphold the First Amendment and reject policies that unlawfully remove books from school libraries.

Report: We Need Supportive Spaces That Celebrate Us: Black Girls Speak Out About Public Schools 

The Education Law Center – PA has just released a new report — We Need Supportive Spaces That Celebrate Us: Black Girls Speak Out About Public Schools. It centers the experiences of Black girlhood in Pennsylvania public schools and sets forth Black girls’ recommendations for making long overdue changes that will create more just school communities. Supportive Spaces is the first education-focused report of its kind in Pennsylvania because it centers the voices of the experts: Black girls attending public schools!   

Public schools should be supportive, affirming, and well-resourced places where Black girls learn and thrive. We know this isn’t the reality. Inequities caused by anti-Black racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and economic injustice pervade every aspect of Black girls’ education and deprive them of the types of educational spaces they are entitled to under law and deserve. This can and must change.  

Read more about Supportive Spaces and our Black Girls Education Justice Initiative at https://www.elc-pa.org/supportivespaces/.

A four-page companion guide with highlights of the report is also available.

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.

A Decade of Shortchanging Children With Disabilities

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.

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.

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

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.

Lead and Its Impact on Learning

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.

Comments to U.S. Department of Education on ESSA Implmentation

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).

ELC Analysis of Senate School Code Bill

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.