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.

Statement on Gov. Wolf’s Budget Proposal for FY21

Gov. Tom Wolf presented a budget proposal to the General Assembly on Feb. 4 that would provide an additional $435 million for classroom spending in schools and early education programs across the Commonwealth, in addition to $1 billion to clean up toxic schools.

Education Law Center executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr comments: “There’s no question that Pennsylvania’s students need every dollar that the governor has proposed.”

Read her full 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 to Special Education Funding Commission: Formula Can Be Improved

ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley testified to the Pennsylvania legislature’s Special Education Funding Commission on Oct. 8, as the commission wrapped up a series of hearings to review the state’s funding formula for special education.

Staley noted that it bears emphasizing that decisions about how to distribute funds cannot truly be divorced from the issue of how much funding is available. “When resources are scarce, decisions about how those resources are distributed can either sustain or debilitate a community,” she said.

ELC’s recommendations for making the funding formula more equitable included introducing some of the measures of district need that are used in the formula for basic education; adding weights to account for the unrecognized costs of special education services for particular marginalized populations such as English learners; and dedicating a bigger chunk of any funding increases to support the poorest, most inadequately funded school districts.


ELC Opposes Bill to Loosen Restrictions on Arming School Personnel

In a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf in June 2019, the Education Law Center urges him to veto Senate Bill 621, arguing that it represents a dangerous loosening of the existing restrictions on who can be armed in schools. Current Pennsylvania law already allows for school police officers and school resource officers to be armed in schools. The bill would give authority to security guards to be armed, including outside, third-party security firms.

ELC maintains that if this bill becomes law, it will exacerbate the current risks of having armed personnel in schools. We cannot afford to have any confusion about roles or accountability with armed personnel. “Armed school police officer” is not a role that should be contracted to outside private firms. The best school safety strategies involve investing in building strong school communities and strong supports for students.

Read our letter here.

ELC Opposes PA House Bill 800, Funding Private School Vouchers

In an April 26, 2019, letter to Rep. James R. Roebuck, Jr., Democratic chair of the Pennsylvania House Education Committee, ELC urges the defeat of a proposal to massively expand the state’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program (EITC). The bill won approval by the House Education Committee on April 29. House Republicans who have fought increases in public education funding did not hesitate to approve the bill despite a $100 million price tag in the first year and an automatic 10% escalator clause in each subsequent year.

Tax credits under EITC pay for student scholarships to attend private schools, including religious schools, without any restrictions on discrimination based on disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or socioeconomic status. Read more about why ELC opposes the bill.


ELC Testimony Opposes Mandate to Use Metal Detectors in All Philadelphia High Schools

In written testimony, the Education Law Center-PA joined with district students, parents, youth leaders such as the Philadelphia Student Union, and teachers, to urge members of the Philadelphia Board of Education to oppose a policy change that would mandate the use of metal detectors in all district high schools. The school board scheduled a vote on the policy change on March 28, 2019.

ELC explains that proposed amendments to the school district’s Policy 805 will perpetuate an alarming national trend of “hardening schools” — attempting to protect students through the implementation of policies and practices which are not only ineffective but create a more negative school climate.

Read our testimony 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.

Homeless Children’s Education Task Force Report – 2014

This Pennsylvania Department of Education report offers 13 recommendations to build upon existing efforts and advance change within the state education system to meet the educational needs of Pennsylvania’s children experiencing homelessness.

The findings and recommendations contained in this report were presented to the Governor, the President pro tempore of the Senate, the Minority Leader of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the Senate and the chairman and minority chairman of the Education Committee of the House of Representatives.


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).