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.

English learners caught in competition for funding

Oct. 20, 2016 – The Philadelphia Public School Notebook – by Bill Hangley, Jr.

This year brought some good news for Katie Christ.

“I finally got textbooks!”

That’s a welcome addition to Christ’s high school classroom in Delaware County’s William Penn School District, where she’s taught students who are learning English for 11 years.

But new textbooks are just the start of what she needs for her English learner (EL) classes. For other needed materials – novels and short stories, online language instruction, computers, snacks –  she’ll keep doing what she’s always done: find freebies on the internet, borrow from the English or history departments, raise private donations, or pay from her own pocket.

“I don’t mind spending the money when I see the outcomes,” said Christ, who estimates she spends $1,000 of her own money a year and raises about $3,000 more online.

One online source of funds is a website where donors can give to classroom projects. “Without Donors Choose, I wouldn’t be able to do what I want to do,” she said.

And when it comes to the bigger things that only her district can provide – like more staff to support students, more time in the school day to collaborate, or a fully stocked computer cart – she’ll cross her fingers and hope for a better budget next year.

“I only have two computers in the classroom. One of them’s mine,” Christ said. “I had a computer cart, but they couldn’t handle the new updates. They were old when I first got them.”

Read the rest of the article at the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

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.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court to Hear Oral Argument for Fair Education Funding Suit

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 8, 2016 – Oral argument in William Penn School District, et al. v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, et al. will commence before Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court at Philadelphia’s City Hall on September 13th at 9 AM.  The Public Interest Law Center and Education Law Center-PA, representing the plaintiffs, will ask 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 would allow the plaintiffs to present evidence that the state 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.

Following the hearing, a rally and press conference in support of the lawsuit will take place on the North Side of City Hall, at 10:30 AM.  Speakers and attendees will include representatives from the parent and school district plaintiffs, 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.

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 plaintiffs 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.

“Pennsylvania’s public school children are entitled to have their day in court. The Legislature’s failure to ‘support and maintain’ a thorough and efficient system of public education has resulted in Pennsylvania having the widest disparity between high-wealth and low-wealth school districts of anywhere in the nation,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “Our children can no longer wait. Court enforcement of our Constitution is the only way that all children in Pennsylvania will receive the sustained investment they need to learn – regardless of where they live or what school they attend.”

“Upholding the Constitution is the highest duty of our judiciary, and we are confident that the Supreme Court will step in where the General Assembly has failed,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel for the Public Interest Law Center. “Our inadequate funding system shortchanges students by leaving them without the most basic resources they deserve. We have the opportunity with this lawsuit to require the legislature to finally address this longstanding problem.”

In the absence of judicial oversight, the Commonwealth has underfunded rural, suburban, and urban schools across the state for many years, resulting in the nation’s highest disparity between wealthy and poor districts. According to the petition filed by the plaintiffs, the General Assembly has adopted state standards that define the academic content children must learn, but has failed to provide the funding necessary to give students an opportunity to meet those standards. As a result, many students in underfunded schools struggle academically and fail to meet state standards.

While Pennsylvania recently adopted a school funding formula – which the attorneys for the plaintiffs acknowledge is a step in the right direction – only a small fraction of education dollars will be driven 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.

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.

 

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.

www.elc-pa.org | www.facebook.com/educationlawcenter | www.twitter.com/edlawcenterpa

PHILADELPHIA: 1315 Walnut Street, 4th Floor | Philadelphia, PA 19107 | 215-238-6970

PITTSBURGH: 429 Fourth Avenue Suite, 702 | Pittsburgh, PA 15219 | 412-258-2120

ELC Statement on the Final Passage of the 16-17 State Budget Bill

July 1, 2016

 

Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center, issued the following statement on the final passage of the 16-17 state budget bill.

“While we are pleased that the General Assembly has approved an additional $200 million in funding for basic education, $20 million in special education, and $25 million in early education, this increased appropriation still falls far short of what our children need and what Governor Wolf originally requested. And while we applaud the state for utilizing a new bipartisan funding formula to distribute the basic education dollars more fairly, this formula is only as good as the money that funds it. This year’s amount is insufficient to close the massive adequacy gaps that exist.

This agreement will allow school districts to plug budget holes in the short term, but it will also prevent schools from making important investments to improve student performance.  At the same time, this budget locks in long-term structural inequities that leave many of Pennsylvania’s schoolchildren behind.

Even as we call on the Governor and the General Assembly to continue to work together to bring needed resources back into our schools, we know that tens of thousands of Pennsylvania children can no longer wait for the long-term, sustained investments in education they need to succeed. That is why we plan to continue vigorously pursuing Pennsylvania’s fair funding lawsuit before the state Supreme Court in September 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.”

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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.

www.elc-pa.org | www.facebook.com/educationlawcenter | www.twitter.com/edlawcenterpa

PHILADELPHIA: 1315 Walnut Street, 4th Floor | Philadelphia, PA 19107 | 215-238-6970

PITTSBURGH: 429 Fourth Avenue Suite, 702 | Pittsburgh, PA 15219 | 412-258-2120

PA Supreme Court sets argument date for fair education funding lawsuit

June 16, 2016

Harrisburg, Pa.—The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announced on Wednesday that it will hear oral argument for Pennsylvania’s landmark education funding lawsuit on September 13, 2016, in its Philadelphia courtroom.

The lawsuit, William Penn School District vs. Pennsylvania Dept. of Education, seeks to remedy decades of inequitable education funding that have robbed children of the resources they need to succeed. It argues that the state’s system of funding public education is so inadequate and unequal that it violates state constitutional provisions requiring a “thorough and efficient system of public education” and equal treatment under the law.

The suit was filed in November 2014 by a broad-based coalition of parents, school districts and non-profit organizations that have seen firsthand the devastating impact of these failures in classrooms and in children’s lives. The plaintiffs include: 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 the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania are representing these plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to permit a full trial in this case by reversing a 2015 Commonwealth Court decision that dismissed the case as raising a political question. This reversal would allow the plaintiffs to present evidence that the state General Assembly has violated the Pennsylvania Constitution by failing to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools.

“We are pleased that the Court will hear argument in September on the need to enforce the Constitution’s requirement that every child receive a quality, adequately funded, public education. Our inadequate, inequitable funding system leaves children without the most basic resources they deserve, and that they need to become productive members of society,” said Michael Churchill, of counsel for the Public Interest Law Center.

“After years of insufficient funding for our classrooms, protracted stalemates and in the absence of any method for linking school spending to state standards, court enforcement of the constitution is the only way we can guarantee that all children in Pennsylvania will have adequate resources to learn regardless of where they live and what school they attend,” said Deborah Gordon Klehr, Executive Director of the Education Law Center. “We are confident that the courts will step in where the General Assembly has failed and begin upholding this important constitutional requirement.”

In the absence of judicial oversight, the Commonwealth has underfunded rural, suburban, and urban schools all over the state for many years. According to the petition filed by the plaintiffs, the General Assembly has adopted state standards that define the academic content children must learn but has failed to provide the funding necessary to give students an opportunity to meet those standards. As a result, students in underfunded schools struggle academically and fail to meet state standards.  While Pennsylvania recently adopted a school funding formula – which the attorneys for the plaintiffs acknowledge is a step in the right direction – only a small fraction of education dollars will be driven through that formula and state funding remains wholly inadequate to meet the needs of students.

If the plaintiffs win at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the case will return to the Commonwealth Court for a full trial on the merits.

All case documents can be viewed here: https://edfundinglawsuit.wordpress.com/

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The Education Law Center of Pennsylvania works to ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education, including poor children, children of color, children with disabilities, children in the foster care and juvenile justice systems, English language learners, and other vulnerable children. For more information visit www.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 populations by ensuring they have access to fundamental resources including a high-quality public education, access to 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.

Contact:

Barb Grimaldi, Public Interest Law Center, 267-546-1304, [email protected]

Anthony Campisi, Education Law Center, 215-735-6760 [email protected]

 

Education Lawsuits Attempt To Rectify Pennsylvania’s Funding Disparities

Apr. 18, 2016 – Essential Pittsburgh WESA 90.5 FM

A current funding lawsuit alleges that Pennsylvania has broken its constitutional obligation to provide a “thorough and efficient” education. We’ll talk with Cheryl Kleiman, Staff Attorney for the Education Law Center, one of the attorneys in the case. And Kevin McCorry WHYY Senior Education Writer who is contributing to the NPR reporting project “School Money” exploring how states pay for their public schools and why many are failing to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students.