ELC Testifies on Barriers to Education Success before PA Senate Education Committee

ELC staff attorney Hetal Dhagat addressed educational barriers that impact Black and Brown students, low-income students, students with disabilities, and immigrant and refugee students in testimony to the PA Senate Education Committee on April 23, 2021. She spoke at a hearing on K-12 education reforms in Western Pennsylvania, the last of three hearings that the committee has held for different regions of the state. 

ELC’s testimony emphasized these issues:

  • Prioritize mental health supports for students.
  • Focus on supports to improve school attendance.
  • Meet the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Ensure that culturally and linguistically diverse families are supported.
  • Ensure fair and equitable funding for public schools.

Read ELC’s testimony here.

Tentative Trial Date Is Set in Pennsylvania School Funding Lawsuit

Public school students in Pennsylvania will soon have their day in court. A Commonwealth Court order released April 1 tentatively scheduled a trial start date of September 9, 2021, in a historic lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s school funding system.  [Note: The trial start date was ultimately pushed back to Nov. 12.]

Attorneys expect the trial to last several weeks. The trial dates will be set at a pretrial conference on June 21, the order said. Read the press release here.

Join us May 2 in Harrisburg for the Fight for Fair Funding

Rally-for-Fair-Education-Funding (00000003)

Public schools in Pennsylvania are a far cry from the “thorough and efficient” system of education guaranteed under our state constitution. Years of neglect and stagnation in Harrisburg have left our children waiting for far too long. Budget cuts have forced school districts around the state to make dramatic changes. Without librarians, guidance counselors, nurses or even enough teachers, our students are suffering.

That’s why we want YOU to join Education Law Center and members of the Campaign for Fair Education Funding in Harrisburg on May 2nd! Register now to reserve your spot on a free bus from Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, PA.

WHO: The Campaign for Fair Education Funding

WHAT: Rally for Fair Education Funding

WHERE: The Main Rotunda at the State Capitol, Harrisburg, PA

Buses of supporters are leaving from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

WHEN: Monday, May 2, 12:30 p.m.

(Buses from your respective locations will leave at various times that morning)

Click the link below to reserve your spot in the fight for fair education funding!


We hope to see you in Harrisburg on May 2nd! Need assistance registering? Email Spencer Malloy at [email protected].

Opinion: Fully and fairly fund our schools

Jan. 17, 2016 – The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – By Nancy A. Hubley and Patrick Dowd

Pennsylvania’s leaders have signed off on school funding reform. It’s long past time they got it done.

This month Pennsylvania began 2016 without a full budget, leaving the short- and long-term needs of every school — and every student — up in the air.

In the short term, the partial spending plan recently signed by Gov. Tom Wolf will provide desperately needed emergency cash for schools and human services, but only enough to push off closures and further cuts for a few more months.

In the long term, the budget gridlock means that one of the fundamental issues facing Pennsylvania — the need to repair our broken public school funding system — remains unresolved.

Not having sufficient resources is unfortunately nothing new for Pennsylvania students. Years of inadequate and inequitable funding have forced many school districts to eliminate programs, lay off teachers and reduce academic support for students. These cuts particularly harm at-risk learners who lag behind their peers and will continue to do so unless they are provided with resources and supports that address their needs.

The reality is that the state’s current system of funding education simply does not work. On that, virtually everyone agrees: Republicans, Democrats and educators in rural, urban, suburban and charter schools. The system does not provide sufficient resources to educate every student to academic standards, nor does it distribute dollars in a fair and predictable way.

The budget gridlock has only made things worse: Scores of school districts across the state have been forced to borrow emergency funds just to keep their already-underfunded doors open.

The result, repeated again and again since long before today’s ongoing budget impasse, is that Pennsylvania has the widest funding gap between wealthy and poor school districts of any state in the country. That means that the amount of money available to educate a child varies widely, depending solely on where each child happens to live. The lack of predictability in the distribution of funds also means that school districts cannot effectively plan for the future.

Pennsylvania’s inadequate school funding system has compelled our organizations to help create and lead the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, a coalition of more than 50 diverse organizations dedicated to advancing a funding system that allocates state education dollars in a fair way so that all children have a chance to succeed no matter where they live.

Last June, the bipartisan state Basic Education Funding Commission, made up of representatives from the governor’s office, the Department of Education and members of both parties in the state House and Senate, responded to this call for action and unanimously approved recommendations for a new school funding formula. After months of hearings, analysis and negotiations, the commission developed a formula that would address the concerns of schools and remove politics from decisions as to whether students have the resources they need to succeed.

This balanced formula would direct money to school districts based on objective factors, such as student enrollment, the needs of the student population and school district wealth and capacity to raise local revenue. It was widely praised by legislators, local school officials and other experts and editorial boards across Pennsylvania as a critical first step towards equity and adequacy in Pennsylvania’s school funding.

In a year of political gridlock and increasing polarization, it is notable that all sides came together to find a solution to benefit students. The formula’s adoption, however, is still in question.

It was included in the budget framework that the governor and legislative leaders agreed to back in November, when a consensus was reached to direct some new dollars to restore past funding cuts while distributing the remaining dollars through the new funding formula. In future years, the new, fairer formula would be used to distribute all funding.

If the governor and legislators want to move toward sustained, meaningful investment in our schools, they should pass a full budget that contains at least an additional $350 million for basic education to help restore previous school funding cuts and begin implementing the new funding formula. This significant increase in basic funding would be only a down payment on the long-term investment required to reach equitable and adequate funding, but it is a necessary first step.

It is time for lawmakers to cast aside their differences for what should be their top priority: an equitable basic education funding system that provides a strong foundation for the long-term investment that is needed in our public schools.

Pennsylvania’s students, who are shortchanged every day by our broken system, cannot afford to wait any longer.

Nancy A. Hubley is Pittsburgh director of the Education Law Center. Patrick Dowd is executive director of Allies for Children.

Fair funding campaign analyzes Pa. budget proposals

October 16, 2015 – The Philadelphia Public School Notebook  – by Catherine Offord

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding (CFEF), a statewide coalition of more than 50 organizations, recently released a report on the implications of the education proposals being debated in Harrisburg.

The report, “Lifting All Students: Why Pennsylvania Must Act Now to Fairly Fund Public Education and Secure Our Future,” details the practical outcomes for school districts across the state under both the $410 million funding increase in Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget and the $100 million increase proposed by Republican legislators.

“This report was an effort to make clear what is at stake if we get a truly robust education funding formula and an influx of funding this year,” said Ian Gavigan, policy and communications associate at the Education Law Center, a leading member of CFEF.

“It was an effort to ground the discussion in what actually happens in each district.”

In June, the campaign endorsed a fair funding formula proposed by the Basic Education Funding Commission. Although the formula has received general support in Harrisburg, debate continues over exactly how it should be implemented.

“The formula divides out the money, but it doesn’t dictate how much money is actually put in,” said Michael Race, vice president of communications at Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.

The report supports Wolf’s plan to complement the formula’s introduction with extra funds, helping to close large funding gaps among Pennsylvania’s school districts.

Philadelphia, one of the districts hit hardest by the 2011 budget cuts, would benefit significantly. The report predicts a boost of $120 million more from Wolf’s proposal than what Republican legislators are suggesting.

“We’re regularly in Harrisburg, pushing legislators on this issue, presenting this report and other data about increasing equity and adequacy in schools,” said Gavigan, adding that he hopes both legislators and advocates will be able to use the research.

Race agrees. “Ultimately, we want it to be useful to lawmakers,” he said. “The next steps are not only ensuring that the formula is adopted, but that it’s maintained and not dismantled in future years. Then it’s a matter of ensuring that there are sufficient resources put into the formula to actually get districts what they need to educate students.”


Save the Date: August 6th School Funding Forum in Pittsburgh

School Funding Forum in Pittsburgh, PA

Thursday, August 6th, 2-4pm

With Hear Me and our western PA partners in the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, the Education Law Center is convening a school funding forum with a focus on the most at-risk students. Join us to hear stories of students directly impacted by a lack of education resources and to discuss the latest updates from Harrisburg. While school funding issues impact all children, we hope this forum will kick-start a dialogue on what school funding means for the most at-risk students whom ELC serves, including students experiencing homelessness or in foster care, English language learners, and students with disabilities.

Location: Gates Hillman Center at Carnegie Mellon University, room 8102. Suggested parking is in the East Campus Garage; here’s a map of walking directions from the garage to the room.

The event is free and open to the public. To join us, please email Staff Attorney Cheryl Kleiman at [email protected].

GOP Budget Falls Short of Philly Schools Request

July 1, 2015 – Holly Otterbein, Philadelphia Magazine – Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed the GOP-led legislature’s state budget Tuesday night, in part, he said, because it would set aside far less education funding than he believes is fair.

How much less?

Earlier this year, the Philadelphia School District asked state lawmakers for an extra $206 million. The Republican bill would have provided only an additional $21.8 million to the school district, according to data from Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. That’s about 11 percent of the surplus funding that district officials said they need.

Wolf’s proposed budget would also spend less on the school district than officials would like, but just slightly. His plan would allocate an extra $184 million to the city’s schools, according to district spokesman Fernando Gallard.

Although the GOP budget would have given the schools half a loaf, it still would have been enough to cover the district’s $85 million shortfall when combined with the $70 million in new revenue approved by City Council last month. The district requested money beyond that, though, because it hoped to begin investing in classrooms again after several years of severe cutbacks.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, applauded Wolf’s decision to veto the proposal.

“The General Assembly has failed our children by refusing to restore draconian funding cuts that have left our poorest districts unable to meet the needs of their students,” she said, referring to cuts made under former Gov. Tom Corbett.

Wolf and state lawmakers resumed talks on the budget at 2 p.m. today, the Associated Press reported.

Read the article on Phillymag.com: http://www.phillymag.com/news/2015/07/01/gop-school-funding-philadelphia/

PA House Education Budget Is Woefully Inadequate To Meet Student Needs


Contact: Deborah Gordon Klehr, [email protected], 215-346-6920

PA House Education Budget Is Woefully Inadequate To Meet Student Needs:

It’s Time to Stop Shortchanging our Children

June 28, 2015

By a vote of 112-77, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a budget yesterday that continues to underfund our schools and does not reflect a true commitment to ensuring that all of Pennsylvania’s children receive a quality education. On net, the House’s education budget only provides an additional $8 million for K-12 public education and the average increase per school district is only 1.7 percent. The Legislature’s budget appropriates only a fraction of what many say is required to serve the documented needs of students. It is also less than 25 percent of the new money recommended in the Governor’s budget for basic education and only 20 percent of new money recommended for special education.

“This is a woefully inadequate investment in the future of our public school children,” said Education Law Center’s Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr.

The Senate is expected to vote on the same budget today. “We urge the Legislature to appropriate $410 million in new dollars for basic education and $100 million in additional special education funding,” said Klehr. Restoration is needed to close the gaps created by the 2011 reductions in public school funding, which crippled our schools and exacerbated funding disparities across school districts. “First restore the cuts, then apply the funding formula as adopted by the Basic Education Funding Commission. This is a thoughtful, well-crafted formula based on the real costs of educating students, but it is only as good as the funding that is driven through it.”

The nearly $1 billion in cuts to basic education funding in 2011 cost 20,000 educators their jobs, forced students into larger class sizes, and eliminated key academic programs and basic services.

Special education had been flat-funded for six years until last year’s modest increase. This year, the Governor’s budget included an additional increase of $100 million in special education funding.  This is essential for the nearly 270,000 students with disabilities across Pennsylvania. The Legislature’s proposed $20 million, a 1.9 percent increase, is not enough to meet our students’ needs. “Children with disabilities cannot afford to wait and we cannot prolong the reductions in special education budgets,” said Klehr.

“Our goal is for all children to learn in adequately resourced classrooms. We hope the Legislature will commit to a long-term investment in our children. The current budget falls far short of this goal.”


The Education Law Center-PA works to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, and children experiencing homelessness. For more information, visit www.elc-pa.org or follow @edlawcenterpa on Twitter.


Statement on PA Basic Funding Commission Delay

The Campaign for Fair Education Funding has issued the following statement on the announcement by the Basic Education Funding Commission that it needs more time to complete its recommendations:

It is important that the Commission produces a solution to fix Pennsylvania’s broken basic education funding system. The Commission should take the extra time if that’s what it takes to get it right.

We urge the Commission to continue its work to reach consensus on a sustainable, equitable and predictable public school funding system that addresses existing economic and racial disparities and provides sufficient funds to ensure that all children have the opportunity to succeed — no matter where they live.

We look forward to seeing the Commission’s proposal soon.


Charlie Lyons, 570-242-6437, [email protected]

Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director, Education Law Center; 215-238-6970; [email protected] 


ELC Kicks Off New School Funding Campaign

Oct. 6, 2014 – The Education Law Center, along with more than 40 other organizations, today launched a new campaign for fair education funding for all of Pennsylvania’s K-12 public schools.

“ELC has been leading school funding reform efforts for years. This latest campaign reflects our long-standing commitment to providing all of Pennsylvania’s children — regardless of where they live — the resources necessary to succeed in the classroom and beyond,” said ELC Executive Director, Rhonda Brownstein, a founding member of the campaign, and one its executive committee members.

The campaign has the support of more than 40 organizations throughout Pennsylvania representing educators, business, labor, faith-based organizations and civic and child advocacy groups who want to see Pennsylvania develop a predictable, sustainable and long-term solution to funding its public schools.

Cheryl Kleiman, staff attorney for the Education Law Center, is working with the campaign to engage Western Pennsylvania organizations and build cross-state consensus.

“We are excited about launching this campaign to ensure every public school has the resources it needs,” she said. “A fair, equitable and transparent funding formula will make a big difference for all Pennsylvania’s children – especially our most at-risk students, who too often lack basic supports and services in their public schools. How we address that at the local and state level has tremendous implications for Pennsylvania’s future.”

The Education Law Center is the only statewide legal advocacy group whose mission is to ensure that all of Pennsylvania’s children have access to quality public schools, including poor children, children of color, children with disabilities, children in the foster care system, English Language learners, and other at-risk children. For more information about ELC’s work and its role in the Campaign for Fair Education Funding, please contact Cheryl Kleiman at 412-258-2120 ext. 357.