ELC Files Complaint Against Charter School, Challenging Refusal to Admit Child with Disability

ELC filed a complaint in Pennsylvania’s Common Pleas Court on October 17, 2019, on behalf of a first-grade student who was illegally denied enrollment in a public charter school on the basis of her disability. ELC contends that this action by Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School (MCSCS) of Philadelphia violates the child’s rights under state law.

“This is a glaring example of explicit and illegal discrimination,” said Margie Wakelin, staff attorney at the Education Law Center. “Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case. Charter schools, just like district schools, need to serve students with disabilities and cannot turn them away.”

ELC filed a petition for a preliminary injunction along with the complaint, seeking a court order directing MCSCS to enroll the student immediately. MCSCS enrolls a tiny percentage of students with disabilities, far below the average percentage of students with IEPs for all charter schools in Philadelphia.

Read our news release here. Read the complaint here.

Read media coverage here, here, and here.

Open Letter to PA Special Education Funding Commission from PA Schools Work Campaign

The Special Education Funding Commission of the Pennsylvania legislature reconvened August 27, 2019, for the first time in nearly six years to examine the impact of the 2014 funding formula that now directs state special education funding. Education Law Center joined with the statewide PA Schools Work campaign to issue an open letter with a set of recommendations to the commission for addressing the continued state underfunding of education.

Over the past decade, the state’s contribution to special education costs has dropped from a one-third share to just 22%. The letter urges a “fuller and fairer allocation of funding for special education.” The commission will be meeting and holding hearings over a three-month period.

Read the letter.

ELC Calls on Gov. Wolf to Propose Major Increase in Special Ed Funding

Following on our October report, “Shortchanging Children with Disabilities: State Underfunding of Special Education in Pennsylvania,” the Education Law Center wrote Gov. Tom Wolf in January, urging that his 2019-20 budget proposal include a $400 million increase in state funding for basic education and a $100 million increase in special education funding, to be distributed to districts through the existing funding formulas. Read our letter, press release, and news coverage.

Child Advocates Seek More Special Ed Funding

The Sanatoga Post writes about the two dozen advocacy organizations that worked together to pressure Pennsylvania lawmakers to increase the money available for special education purposes. The article quotes ELC Attorney Reynelle Brown Staley. Read here.

PDE Widens Investigation and Remedy For Young Children With Disabilities Transitioning to Kindergarten in Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has significantly broadened its corrective action in response to ELC’s administrative complaint alleging that the School District of Philadelphia denied young children with disabilities timely evaluations and special education services upon transitioning to Kindergarten or First Grade.  In its prior Complaint Investigation Report (“CIR”) PDE required the District to determine whether it denied any child’s right to receive mandated services during this critical transition, and if so, to issue compensatory education to make up for lost services.  At ELC’s urging through a Request for Reconsideration, PDE agreed to verify the accuracy of the District’s determination that 170 children had been denied services with a random file review.  Recently completed, that review disclosed that the District failed to identify a significant number of students who were denied special education services.  In response, PDE has now expanded its investigation to include an additional 1,795 students with disabilities who transitioned to school last fall to ensure that all children receive needed make-up services.  ELC will continue to press PDE to ensure every child receives relief.  The District is also required to obtain PDE approval for a new procedure to prevent recurring violations this upcoming fall.  You can read the complaints filed by Independence Foundation Law Fellow Sean McGrath and PDE’s Investigation Reports here.

ELC Applauds Gov. Wolf’s Education Budget Proposals, but PA Still Has Far to Go.

Education Law Center Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr applauded Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed increases in funding for basic education, special education, early education, and career and technical education in his Feb. 6 budget address. But the state still has far to go, she said in a press statement, to achieve an adequate and equitable funding system. Read the statement here.

24 Pennsylvania Organizations Join Together to Oppose ESA Voucher Senate Bill

On January 19, 2018, ELC joined 23 other organizations, including teachers, other school workers, school administrators, school boards, advocates, faith-based organizations, and non-partisan civic organizations such as the League of Women Voters, to oppose PA Senate Bill 2.  The Bill is a school voucher proposal masquerading as an Education Savings Account program.  The Bill is a direct attack on public education itself, because it would divert tax dollars to private and religious schools that have no accountability to the public and no obligation to provide (for example) special education, other services to children with disabilities, or services to English Language Learners.  Read the letter here and please call your PA Senator to help protect public education in Pennsylvania by urging him or her to oppose this regressive proposal.

Pa. Department of Education finds Philadelphia School District Violated Rights of at least 800 Children Starting Kindergarten

The Education Law Center has successfully filed a complaint against the School District of Philadelphia on behalf of hundreds of students with disabilities who were not provided with needed services after entering kindergarten or first-grade. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has issued corrective action in response to the complaint, requiring the School District of Philadelphia to issue compensatory education services for all children who were denied a free, appropriate, public education due to the District’s delay and inaction. The Education Law Center applauded the Department’s findings and intervention but also requested further corrective action.  Here are links to read the Complaint and the Department’s Complaint Investigation Report.

ELC files PDE complaint to remedy deficiencies in transition of students from Early Intervention to Philadelphia elementary schools

ELC filed an administrative complaint with the PA Department of Education (“PDE”) on behalf of three individual children and all others similarly situated who have been deprived of smooth transitions to kindergarten or first grade in the School District of Philadelphia (“District”).  State and federal law mandates that children with disabilities must move from early intervention services to elementary school without disruption of the critical special education services to which they are legally entitled.  However, the District has failed to meet these requirements and ELC has asked PDE’s Bureau of Special Education to investigate and issue corrective action as necessary. Specifically, the District is required to (1) complete a re-evaluation of a child’s eligibility for services within 60 days of receiving signed parental consent, (2) provide a Re-evaluation Report to the parent at least 10 days prior to an IEP meeting, and (3) ensure that an IEP is completed within the 30 days of the IEP meeting. Additionally, federal law requires that children who have limited English proficiency are evaluated in their native language to ensure an accurate re-evaluation. If you or any families you know have had similar issues transitioning from early intervention to the District, please contact Sean McGrath at [email protected].  You can read a copy of ELC’s Complaint here.

 

 

City’s public schools, education beneficiaries of new state budget

by Stacy M. Brown, Philadelphia Tribune, Jul 8, 2017

After state lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a $32 billion budget that still has no defined plan in which to pay for it, many around the commonwealth have hailed the spending plan as a victory for public schools and for early childhood and special education.

Local lawmakers added that it’s a victory for Philadelphia area schools as well.

Continue reading

School Reform Commission approves new in-house special education program: The District downscaled the proposal after advocates complained, but concerns linger.

July 6, 2017 — Philadelphia Public School Notebook — by Dale Mezzacappa and Avi Wolfman-Arent

The School Reform Commission voted Thursday to establish a new in-house special education program for 100 students, most diagnosed with social-emotional disabilities and now placed in facilities run by Wordsworth. The new program will be run initially by the private education provider Catapult Learning before transitioning to full District control.

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.