Online and Hybrid Learning: An Equity Checklist for Schools

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated many of the longstanding inequities in our educational system. Black and Brown students, students living in poverty, and other historically underserved groups have been disproportionately harmed by the shift to online learning. To ensure that these students are not left behind, schools must focus on equity and respond flexibly to the individual needs of diverse student populations. Schools will need support for this work from every level of government.

This checklist is a guide to ensure that schools providing online instruction are equitably serving students in the new school year. Access the full checklist here.

Historic School Funding Case Goes to Trial

This two-page flier announcing the upcoming trial in the Pennsylvania school funding lawsuit also provides a rundown of the history of the case, what the goals are, and how individuals and organizations can help advance those goals.

This document is a PDF, formatted for printing as a 2-sided flier.

Testimony on the Need for Adequate, Equitable Funding – to the Pa. House Democratic Policy Committee (9/1/21)

Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr presented testimony on Pennsylvania school funding policy to the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee on September 1, 2021.

Klehr’s testimony on behalf of ELC emphasized that “to serve all children, our system must achieve both adequacy and equity. Simply put we must both grow the pie and distribute the funds to the school districts and students with the greatest need.” She explained, “The legislature must be committed to the goals of both adequacy and equity through robust, predictable long-term funding to meet the needs of students based on concrete adequacy targets…. Without an adequate state contribution, there aren’t enough resources in low-wealth districts to achieve equity across the state.”

The testimony highlights the shortchanging of Black and Latinx students, who are concentrated in low-wealth school districts and are deprived of educational opportunities as a result. It also addresses the need to reform funding policies for cyber charter schools, for special education in charter schools, and for special education overall.

Read the testimony here.

Pennsylvania School Funding Litigation: Frequently Asked Questions

The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, Public Interest Law Center, and the law firm O’Melveny have joined together to file a lawsuit on behalf of school districts, parents, and two statewide organizations against legislative leaders, state education officials, and the governor. We are asking for a court order that will force the legislature to comply with the state constitution and ensure that all students receive access to a high-quality public education. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court in October 2021. Here are answers to common questions about the case.

Testimony: Rooting Out Racialized Exclusionary School Discipline: The Importance of Including  Equity Metrics in Charter School Evaluations

ELC staff attorney Paige Joki called upon the School District of Philadelphia’s Board of Education to consider equity measures in considering whether to authorize or renew Philadelphia area charter schools, in addition to the measures of academic, operational, and financial measures used in the current Charter School Performance Framework.

ELC’s testimony highlighted students’ rights to be free from racism at school and the ways that racialized school discipline policies such as discriminatory grooming codes, subjective violations of schools’ codes of conduct, and the issuance of parental exclusion notices push Black and Brown learners, particularly Black girls, out of education spaces. ELC also called for revisions to the Charter School Performance Framework to ensure that complaints of racial harassment and discrimination received by the Charter School Office are included the evaluation framework. Read the testimony here.

Center Students Over Profits in Chester Upland

In 2021, Chester Upland School District faces the potential outsourcing of some or all of its schools, The court-appointed receiver for the district is now implementing a court-authorized request for proposals (RFP) process that could lead to charter conversion or private management of some or all district schools by this fall.

The current crisis is rooted in a long history of racist policymaking and systemic underfunding. Read about that in this presentation.

ELC, along with Public Interest Law Center, continues to advocate on behalf of Chester parents, students, and the disability rights group Delaware County Advocacy & Resource Organization. We aim to ensure that the quality of education provided to students is centered, parent input and transparency are prioritized, and the needs of students with disabilities are addressed.

In response to our emergency motion to suspend the RFP process, the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas held a Jan. 11 hearing to consider our challenge that the RFP failed to ensure that charter operators demonstrate superior academic outcomes to the district’s and that all bidders establish their ability to improve educational outcomes and meet the needs of all students. On Jan. 14, Judge Barry Dozor ordered revisions to the RFP and suspended the RFP process until the district could submit its completed 2019 financial audits. The new deadline for RFP submissions is Feb. 25. A task force will then be convened to make recommendations to the receiver, and a public hearing held where parents and stakeholders can ask questions of the selected bidders prior to a court hearing on a final plan.

ELC Stands in Solidarity Against Systemic Racism and Police Brutality

We at the Education Law Center stand in solidarity with Black communities and other communities of color in challenging systemic racism and police brutality.

In response to recent events of police brutality, the overwhelmingly disparate racial impact of the pandemic, and the callous indifference of many in the power structure, ELC rededicates itself to effectively addressing the deeply entrenched inequities our schools, using legal and advocacy tools as effectively as we can to dismantle racial injustice and advance educational equity. Read our statement.

Letter to Gov. Wolf on Education Funding for Students with Disabilities

Dozens of Pennsylvania organizations and advocates joined in a letter to Gov. Wolf in January 2020, urging him to help address the unmet needs of over 270,000 students with disabilities in Pennsylvania by increasing investment in special education and basic education in his FY2020-21 budget.

The letter calls for an increase of $100 million in special education funding and for restoring the declining state share of special education funding to the level of a decade ago – as well as calling for additional dollars in basic education funding to close the state’s massive adequacy gap . Finally, it calls for revisions to the state’s special education funding formula, both to better reflect district poverty and to extend the current three-tier funding system to charter schools, tying funding levels to student need.

Read the letter.

Testimony: Meeting the Needs of Students who Experience Bullying in the School District of Philadelphia

Bullying and harassment are pervasive problems across the United States, Pennsylvania, and in Philadelphia public schools. Every week, ELC hears from multiple parents calling our Helpline to report concern and frustration about their children in the School District of Philadelphia who are suffering from persistent and serious bullying that is unaddressed by school staff.

In 2017, ELC filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) on behalf of children with disabilities who were discriminated against due to pervasive bullying and harassment that was unanswered by the District due to a systemic failure to promptly and appropriately investigate their complaints and address their educational needs. The District’s failure to promptly and appropriately address alleged incidents of bullying, including consideration of whether the bullying resulted in the denial of a free appropriate public education and in referrals to truancy court for absences relating to bullying, constituted discrimination on the basis of disability.

OCR opened an investigation and  entered into a Resolution Agreement with the District that awarded individual relief to named complainants and required the District to review and revise its anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies and procedures, provide staff training on disability discrimination and on the duties of school personnel to report, investigate, and appropriately address incidents of bullying and harassment.

Informed by our experiences in handling these matters and OCR’s Resolution Agreement, ELC is offering proposed changes to District Policy 249 on bullying, which is being revised in fall 2019. Our key recommendations fall in three areas:

-Reforming the reporting process to ensure that all bullying complaints are considered, documented, and investigated;

-Providing training and support to ensure robust bullying investigations by impartial, trained staff; and

-Expanding District oversight and monitoring through data collection, analysis and interventions.

Read our November 14, 2019, testimony to the Policy Committee of the Philadelphia school board.

Report: Updating Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding Formula

Research for Action and the Education Law Center have released a new report that presents simple solutions to making Pennsylvania’s special education funding more equitable and adequate.

As the state legislature’s reconvened Special Education Funding Commission develops recommendations for how to fairly fund the education of students with disabilities, this analysis suggests that:

  • Pennsylvania align its Special Education Funding (SEF) formula with the formula adopted by the state in 2016 for distributing Basic Education Funding (BEF); and
  • The state should increase the amount of dollars distributed through the updated formula.

Both the SEF formula (adopted in 2014) and BEF formula (adopted in 2016) apportion state aid similarly, based on both student and district characteristics. But the commission charged with developing the BEF formula determined that newer metrics would more accurately measure each school district’s wealth and tax effort. These newer metrics in the BEF tend to allocate greater resources to districts with higher proportions of historically disadvantaged student groups, including students receiving free or reduced lunch and students of color. The RFA-ELC report recommends that the Special Education Funding Commission incorporate these metrics in any proposed update to the SEF formula. Read the report here.

Testimony: Meeting Needs of English Learners and Limited English Proficient Families in Philadelphia

For a meeting of the Student Achievement and Support Committee of the Philadelphia school board, ELC provided an overview of the rights of English learners and limited-English-proficient parents, followed by a discussion of our understanding of the particular needs and concerns of ELs and LEP families in schools across the District.

ELC’s recommendations focus on three key areas: 1) prompt enrollment and access to language assistance for families; 2) quality ESL instruction; and  3) equal access and opportunities (for example, to special education services or to selective high schools).

Read our testimony.

Open Letter to Elanco School Board on Importance of Supporting Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Students

The Eastern Lancaster County (Elanco) School District in early 2019 took the positive step of permitting transgender students to use the facilities with which they identify. The Education Law Center wrote an open letter of support explaining that the district has legal obligations to affirm transgender and gender-nonconforming (TGNC) students. The letter also explained that welcoming, inclusive school climates enable TGNC students to thrive in their educational environments, whereas hostile and negative school climates are associated with severe educational and health consequences. Read our open letter.

Lancaster Online’s editorial board wrote an editorial in support of Elanco’s affirming practices. Unfortunately, soon after, the Elanco school board backed away from the district’s positive position.

ELC Testimony to State Board of Education on Immunizations

Submitted to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education in March, 2016, this testimony from ELC Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney responds to proposed revisions to Chapter 11 of the Public School Code. She suggests an amendment to §11.20 that would allow the immediate enrollment of children experiencing homelessness and children currently in foster care, with immunization records to be provided following that enrollment.

ELC School Funding Law and Policy Review

Most of the law on school funding in Pennsylvania is found in the annual state budget, which is adopted by the General Assembly around June 30th of each year for the next fiscal year (which begins July 1).


ELC Enrollment Complaint Process

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has developed an enrollment complaint process to investigate whether a school district has illegally determined that a student is not a resident of the school district or is not otherwise entitled to attend school in the district. This process applies to all public schools, including charter schools and cyber charter schools.

ELC Guide to Inclusive Early Childhood Learning in Pennsylvania

The Education Law Center is pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of A Family Guide to Inclusive Early Childhood Learning in Pennsylvania. This project has been supported by a grant from the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council.

This guide is designed to be a quick and easy resource to inclusive early childhood learning programs in Pennsylvania for parents of children with developmental delays or disabilities.