Letter: “Re-think placing children in a facility like Wordsworth”

May 1, 2017 – Philadelphia Public School Notebook – by Maura McInerney

Last week, nine members of City Council called on the city and School District to take immediate action to dissolve their contracts with Wordsworth Philadelphia in the wake of reports of horrific abuse at the facility that led to the death of one child and the sexual assault of at least 49 others. Continue reading

State bill would halt suspensions up to sixth grade

April 5, 2017 – The Philadelphia Tribune – by Stacy M. Brown

HARRISBURG — Year after year, African-American students and other minorities have faced much harsher discipline in public schools than their peers, based on information provided by the state Department of Education.  Continue reading

Education Law Center releases new PA school funding report highlighting racial and class inequities

State needs to both increase funding levels and distribute dollars more fairly

March 7 2017 – As the General Assembly debates Pennsylvania’s education budget for next year, the Education Law Center released a report today highlighting how persistent state underfunding of schools has entrenched widespread inequities and inequalities, particularly in schools that serve lower-income families and large numbers of students of color.  Continue reading

Education Law Center Statement on Governor Tom Wolf’s Pennsylvania Budget Address

Feb. 7, 2017
Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, issued this statement following Governor Tom Wolf’s budget address today:
“Governor Wolf’s proposed increase in state funding for basic, special, and early education in next year’s budget is welcome given the Commonwealth’s difficult budget situation. His proposal to increase early education funding by $75 million and to allocate additional funding to early intervention services represent crucial investments that will help ensure more children enter school ready to learn. But while any additional funding helps, the Governor’s proposed increase of $100 million in basic education and $25 million in special education funding will not be enough to allow schools to close longstanding resource gaps. Our schools currently face a $3 billion adequacy gap. And Pennsylvania ranks 46th in terms of state share of K-12 education funding and has the largest gap in the nation between what our poorest and wealthiest districts receive. Continued educational investments are key to the Commonwealth’s long-term economic competitiveness. We must build off recent successes, including modest increases to basic education funding and the adoption of a fair funding formula to equitably distribute new educational investments to the districts and students who need help the most. We will continue to work with the Governor and the General Assembly to ensure that the budget reflects Pennsylvanians’ priorities and the needs of our students.”
 

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The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness.  For more information visit https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

We’re committed to protecting students’ civil rights

November, 2016

The Education Law Center-PA (ELC) is deeply concerned by ongoing racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and misogynistic rhetoric and incidents in schools. We assure our partners across the state that we will continue holding school districts to their legal obligations to maintain a school atmosphere where students can thrive and do not face fears of violence or discrimination.

ELC remains steadfast in our commitment to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to quality public education. We advocate on behalf of our most vulnerable students, including children living in poverty, children of color, children with disabilities, English Language Learners, and LGBTQ students, to ensure that prejudice and bigotry do not impede their civil rights. We have been privileged to spend the last 41 years working on behalf of students and families and will continue to adapt to whatever challenges are to come.

We are reminded that the road to educational equity is a marathon, not a sprint, and we promise to continue working in the courtroom and in the community to protect the following rights of Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren:

EDUCATION LAW CENTER’S STATEMENT OF STUDENT RIGHTS

The right to be free from discrimination or harassment based on race

Students have the right to attend schools free of discrimination and harassment based on their race, color, or national origin.

The right to be free from discrimination based on disability

Students with disabilities have the right to a free appropriate public education and to be educated in the regular education classroom to the maximum extent appropriate for the student with the disability. Students have the right to accommodations in school and cannot be punished for behavior related to their disability.

The right to be free from discrimination based on religion and to wear religious clothing in school

Students have the right to practice their religion in school and must be allowed to wear religious clothing and head coverings.

The right to be free from discrimination based on immigration and/or English Language Learner status

Students have the right to enroll in public school regardless of immigration or citizenship status. Students who are English Language Learners have the right to programming that helps them overcome language barriers.

The right to be free from discrimination based on gender and gender identity

Gender discrimination and sexual harassment are illegal. Students also have the right to wear clothing consistent with their stated gender. Some Pennsylvania school districts have adopted policies to expressly protecting rights based on gender identity. Litigation is ongoing to protect the right of students to use restrooms and locker-rooms that are consistent with their gender identity.

The right to be treated equally regardless of sexual orientation

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer students have the same right to be free of discrimination and harassment as other students.

The right to be emotionally and physically safe in school

Students have the right to be free from bullying by students and adults, and students cannot be retaliated against for reporting bullying.

The right to freedom of expression

Students have the right to free speech and cannot be censored unless the speech is obscene, creates an imminent threat, or is significantly disruptive. This includes the right to publish articles in a school paper, to refuse to salute the flag, and to wear political armbands.


The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness. Every situation is different. If questions remain about how the law applies to a situation or if you think your rights have been violated, contact us by visiting www.elc-pa.org/contact or by calling 215-238-6970 (Philadelphia) or 412-258-2120 (Pittsburgh).

Click here to download a PDF version of this statement. 

Philadelphia is making pre-K available for thousands of families

The best gift you can give your young child is quality early learning. Quality PreK sets your child on a path to being more likely to graduate from high school, reduces the likelihood of needing special education services, and raises achievement in school and life.

Education Law Center applauds the City of Philadelphia for expanding quality Pre-Kindergarten programs across the City providing 2,000 more slots for three- and four-year olds starting January 4, 2017.  To be eligible, a child must have turned 3 by September 1, 2016 who be a resident of the City of Philadelphia.

Families interested in enrolling their child can call 844-PHL-PREK to speak with a trained professional who will help you locate quality Pre-K programs and child care options near you and determine whether you qualify for public programs to help pay for child care. Over the next four years the City will create a total of 6,500 locally-funded, quality pre-K seats. For more information, go to PHLprek.org, or enroll by calling 844-PHL-PREK.

Education Law Center Statement on Truancy Legislation: HB1907

October 28, 2016

Truancy is an urgent issue across the Commonwealth because the cost to our children and communities is so high: absence from school results in lower academic achievement, higher drop-out rates, and increased involvement in the juvenile justice system.  Truancy also correlates with long-term negative outcomes including drug use, unemployment, victimization, and adult incarceration.  The Education Law Center-PA (ELC) has worked on this issue for years and urged lawmakers to adopt data-driven, evidence-based approaches that we know can effectively prevent and reduce truancy, re-engage students and parents, and make our schools a safe and supportive environment for children and their families.

Pennsylvania’s newly enacted truancy legislation, adopted this week, represents a significant overhaul of the state’s truancy laws.  To the credit of legislators and advocates, the new law recognizes the core principle that the root causes of truancy must be addressed promptly, on the front lines in schools, and on an individualized basis.  In this way, the legislation is a very positive step forward.  However, in other ways, the new law departs significantly from evidence-based approaches and may harm vulnerable students and parents.

Lawmakers undertook this legislation in direct response to the 2014 death of Eileen DeNino, a Berks County mother who died while jailed for failing to pay court costs and fines associated with her children’s truancy.  Yet, the new law maintains jail time and fines levied at parents that called lawmakers into action in the first place.  Instead of reducing fines and eliminating jail time, the new legislation actually increases the fines and maintains jail time requirements, albeit at three days instead of five.  Families can now be subject to progressive fines of $500 and $750 per citation for repeat offenses, $350 more than the prior $300 cap.

”This legislation is a far cry from the originally-proposed ‘Eileen’s Law,’ which eliminated any possibility of jail for truancy and kept fines at bay,” said Alex Dutton an Independence Foundation Public Interest Law Fellow at the Education Law Center.  “Simply put, despite important reforms that should be celebrated, this legislation fails to address the most inequitable aspects of Pennsylvania’s truancy law, leaving poor families exposed to excessive fines and jail that are proven not to reduce truancy.”

Research studies consistently show that imposing such punishments on parents is completely ineffectual in solving truancy.  Data affirms that fines and court costs trap families in court systems and institutions, perpetuating a cycle of poverty that is racially inequitable.  Studies in both Texas and California have highlighted that Black and Latino students are disproportionality criminalized and punished for truancy at rates that do not match corresponding disparities in attendance rates.  Fines and jail punish families rather than support them to overcome barriers to education.  Without a quality education, life outcomes sharply decline.  Additionally, fines stick with families for years, driving them deeper into oppressive systems, making it more difficult for students and parents to obtain employment, maintain stable housing, overcome health challenges, and develop and sustain social connections.

“Going forward, local magistrates must apply the new law in light of its stated purpose: eliminating truancy, reducing collateral consequences of convictions on youth, and maintaining stable and healthy families,” said Maura McInerney, Senior Staff Attorney at the Education Law Center.  “While the legislation provides magistrates with discretion to impose more fines upon families than ever before, magistrates must exercise this discretion with sensitivity to the real issues that poor families face across Pennsylvania and with an awareness that fines and costs perpetuate racial inequities in our society.”

Those at the forefront of truancy reform and best practices have championed individualized approaches to truancy reduction that address the unique barriers that each student faces to school attendance.  Importantly, the new legislation embraces this core principle and requires schools to lead with this approach before resorting to the courts.  Under the new law, schools are required to convene individualized student and parent conferences before passing truancy matters to the courts.  Schools must also make attempts to meaningfully engage parents in this process by providing official notice in the language preferred by the parent and contacting parents via telephone.  Schools who fail to hold conferences and meaningfully engage parents to participate will see their citations thrown out of court.

In addition, schools are no longer permitted to suspend, transfer, or expel students for their non-attendance—“a practice that was all too widespread, yet totally illogical,” said Dutton.  Moreover, students who have been deemed truant can now apply to expunge their records immediately upon earning a high school diploma or its equivalent—an essential reform that will sharply limit the collateral consequences that such convictions have on youth as they age into adulthood.

Importantly, the legislation provides local magistrates with significant discretion to impose fair consequences upon students and parents aimed at eliminating the root causes of a student’s truancy.  This includes discretion to impose fines, jail, and referrals to the Department of Transportation for automatic driver’s license suspension, a practice which entraps poor people in a cycle of debt.  Armed with discretion, it is imperative that local officials apply the law according to its purposes in an effort to avoid the imposition of punitive consequences like fines and jail.

“We look forward to working with partners and stakeholders across the Commonwealth to implement the new law to promote racial justice and access to education for Pennsylvania’s poorest and most vulnerable children and youth,” said Dutton.  “Education Law Center will continue to support families facing the most difficult challenges in getting their children to school everyday, and will work closely with local districts and law enforcement to find solutions that will empower parents, students, and communities.”

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The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness.  For more information visit https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Hears Oral Argument for Fair Education Funding Lawsuit

The suit, filed in 2014, claims the Commonwealth is violating its constitutional duty to “support and maintain” a “thorough and efficient system of public education”

PHILADELPHIA – September 13, 2016 – Oral argument in William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. commenced before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court at Philadelphia City Hall on September 13. Hundreds of parents, students, superintendents, and school board members, including advocates from as far away as Erie and Pittsburgh, crowded the halls of Philadelphia City Hall and waited in line to attend the argument.

The case was filed in 2014 against the governor and legislative leaders in response to decades of underfunding by Harrisburg that has deprived children of the resources they need to succeed.

The attorney for the petitioners delivered a powerful argument urging the state’s highest court to permit judicial review of the state’s failures to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Education Clause and Equal Protection provision. Specifically, the petitioners challenged that years of underfunding by the state legislature are in direct violation of the Education Clause’s language to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”

Two attorneys representing the legislature and Governor argued that the courts have no role in ensuring that children in Pennsylvania have access to an adequate education and that the courts have no responsibility to enforce the state constitution.

“The legislature continues to abdicate its constitutional responsibilities year after year by drastically underfunding our public schools,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “Today we asked the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to give us the opportunity to make the case for our public schools in court. We asked the court to protect and enforce our Constitution.”

“Pennsylvania’s current education funding system is unconstitutional. Right now, a child’s ZIP code determines whether or not he or she will have access to basic school resources like text books and computers,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel for the Public Interest Law Center. “The disparities between well funded and poorly funded districts are greater in Pennsylvania than any other state in the country.  The courts need to tell the legislature to end this inequity.”

Attorneys for the petitioners are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to permit a full trial on the merits of the case, reversing a 2015 Commonwealth Court decision that dismissed the case. This will allow the petitioners to present evidence that the General Assembly has violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools and leaving children without the resources they need to succeed academically. The petitioners that brought the case include seven parents, six school districts – William Penn, Panther Valley, Lancaster, Greater Johnstown, Wilkes-Barre Area and Shenandoah Valley – the Pennsylvania Association of Rural and Small Schools (PARSS) and the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference.  The Public Interest Law Center and Education Law Center-PA are representing the petitioners.

Following the hearing, a large, spirited rally took place on the north side of City Hall.  Speakers and attendees included State Senator Vincent Hughes, representatives from the parent and school district petitioners, Councilwoman Helen Gym, clergy from Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild (POWER), advocates from Education Voters of PA and the NAACP, and attorneys from the Public Interest Law Center and the Education Law Center-PA.

While Pennsylvania recently adopted a school funding formula – which the attorneys for the plaintiffs acknowledge is a step in the right direction – only 6% of the state’s basic education dollars are driven out through that formula and state education funding levels overall remain wholly inadequate to meet the needs of students.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision of the appeal sometime after the oral argument, although there is no specific deadline.

More information, including case documents, can be found here: http://edfundinglawsuit.wordpress.com/

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The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, including children living in poverty, children of color, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, children with disabilities, English language learners, LGBTQ students, and children experiencing homelessness.  For more information visit https://elc-pa.org/ or follow on Twitter @edlawcenterpa.

The Public Interest Law Center uses high-impact legal strategies to improve the well-being and life prospects of vulnerable people by ensuring they have access to fundamental resources including a high-quality public education, health care, employment, housing, safe and healthy neighborhoods and the right to vote. For more information visit www.pubintlaw.org or follow on Twitter @PubIntLawCtr.

ACLU and Education Law Center Sue School District of Lancaster for Illegally Denying Immigrant Youth an Education

July 19, 2016

LANCASTER, PA – The ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Education Law Center, and pro bono counsel Pepper Hamilton LLP filed a federal lawsuit today alleging that the School District of Lancaster (SDOL) has been illegally refusing to enroll older immigrant students with limited English proficiency (LEP) or diverting them to an inferior, privately operated disciplinary school, rather than allowing them to attend the district’s regular high school. The plaintiffs include six refugees aged 17-21 from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burma who have fled war, violence, and persecution in their native countries. Continue reading

Education Law Center statement on the completion of the 2016-2017 Pennsylvania budget

July 13, 2016

Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, issued the following statement on the completion of the 2016-2017 Pennsylvania budget:

“While we are encouraged that this year’s recently approved state budget with accompanying revenue will include an additional $200 million in funding for basic education, $20 million in special education, and $30 million in early education, this increase still falls far short of what our children need and what Governor Wolf originally requested. It will allow school districts to plug some budget holes in the short term but will prevent schools from making important investments to improve student performance in the long term. It also locks in long-term structural inequities that will continue to leave many of Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren behind.

“Even with the passage of the 2016-2017 budget, proper funding for public education remains wholly inadequate and inequitable in Pennsylvania. Tens of thousands of schoolchildren can no longer wait for the long-term, sustained investments in education they need to succeed. That is why we are vigorously pursuing Pennsylvania’s fair funding lawsuit before the state Supreme Court to implement a long-term solution to ensure that the Commonwealth meets its constitutional requirement to provide a ‘thorough and efficient’ public school system that serves all children regardless of their ZIP code.  We look forward to presenting our case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on September 13, 2016.”

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The Education Law Center-PA (“ELC”) is a non-profit, legal advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education. Through legal representation, impact litigation, trainings, and policy advocacy, ELC advances the rights of vulnerable children, 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.

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