ELC Joins Civil Rights Organizations in Issuing New Report Challenging Curtailment of Important Protections for Children of Color

ELC joined more than a dozen other civil rights organizations in releasing a new report highlighting the ways the Trump Administration is aggressively and intentionally limiting the civil rights protections of children and youth of color in schools. The Report was prepared by the Civil Rights Roundtable, a national coalition of organizations and academic professionals who are experts in the fields of school discipline, civil rights, and disability law. The Report analyzes recent changes in policies, regulations, and enforcement agency action which significantly impact children and youth of color, including reductions in Office of Civil Rights investigations of systemic claims, the proposed rescission of the Title VI discipline guidance, and delay and potential rescission of racial disproportionality regulations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. These changes threaten to have a devastating impact on a generation of children and youth of color who are already disproportionately excluded from the classroom. The Report demonstrates that the policy, regulatory, and guidance revisions undertaken by the Trump Administration surpass the ordinary actions of a new administration and should be recognized as an intentional and substantial threat to decades of civil rights protections. The Report highlights a series of important recommendations to change this trajectory. Read the report here.

Education Law Center Applauds Change in Philadelphia’s Student Discipline Policy

ELC has long advocated for alternatives to out-of-school suspensions of young children; they are not age-appropriate and do not make schools safer. Suspensions of kindergartners were banned in Philadelphia in 2016. The District’s School Reform Commission in June 2018 formally changed the School District’s student conduct and discipline policy, extending the existing ban on out-of-school suspensions to cover grades 1 and 2. This means that students in those grades cannot be suspended unless it is shown that their behavior resulted in serious bodily injury. Read our release here.

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.

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

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.


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.



Does Pa. provide a ‘thorough and efficient’ education? A panel considers.

November 5 – The Philadelphia Public School Notebook  – by Greg Windle

Last Monday, the National Constitution Center hosted a panel where four people actively involved in education policy discussed the role of the Pennsylvania constitution in improving access to quality public education. The discussion was framed around the contentious policy of “school choice,” which advocates the expansion of charters and magnet schools.

The panel members debated how to interpret the constitution’s mandate that the state provide “thorough and efficient education” for all of its students.

Mark Gleason, of the Philadelphia School Partnership, said, “What’s especially significant about that phrase is the word that’s not there. It ends with ‘education,’ it doesn’t end with ‘education system.’” Gleason concluded that the state may be obliged to provide public education under the constitution, but that “it doesn’t mean the same way, through the same system.”

However, Deborah Gordon Klehr of the Education Law Center was quick to contradict him. She read directly from the constitution:

“The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the commonwealth.”

Klehr explained that the constitution explicitly uses the term and that the state legislature is responsible for creating and maintaining that system.

Donna Cooper, of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, said she wished that “choice were a strategy for success.” But, she said, neither magnet schools nor charters help students who do not have access to them.

“You have to do it universally or you don’t move the needle,” she said.

As evidence of Pennsylvania’s lack of a “thorough” education system, Klehr pointed out that the commonwealth has “the largest gap between the wealthiest and poorest districts” of any state in the country.

Gleason claimed that Pennsylvania has, nonetheless, made progress over the last 10 or 15 years by providing some choice in low-income communities.

“We have school choice. The problem is we don’t have access to equal choice. … Families who can afford it – who live in the right zip code – have a choice.”

But Cooper argued that the expansion of magnets and charters exacerbate what is an inherently unequal system. “We can create pockets of success … but that is not a universal answer. Creating more choice comes at the expense of students who don’t have it.”

Gleason acknowledged that school choice causes stress on the larger system. But he said that if the state had a fair education funding formula, that stress would be diminished. He outlined a proposal where a weighted student formula would allot an amount to follow each child, regardless of what kind of school they attend.

Klehr pointed out that the state already commissioned a “costing out” study in 2007 to determine how much each district would need to bring all its students to academic proficiency. The formula assigned different weights, and per-pupil amounts, for factors including deep poverty and the need to learn English, and additional money to districts with high concentrations of these students.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell started using the formula in his education allocations with the goal of increasing the state’s share of total education spending to at least 50 percent. But that was abandoned by former Gov. Tom Corbett, who slashed state school aid.

“So we’ve measured it,” Klehr said, “we just abandoned it in 2011, and we’re hopeful that our General Assembly will bring that back for our students and for our schools.”

A legislative school funding commission followed a similar template in coming up with a fair funding formula in 2015. But with the state budget stalemate, there is still no agreement on how  the money should be distributed, much less on the total amount that should be spent.

Cooper blamed the state legislature, which, she said, “since 2011 has been unwilling to think about the words ‘thorough and efficient.’”

“A big piece of the solution lies with the courts,” said Klehr. “The Supreme Court has a responsibility.”

But not every failure of the system could be attributed to the interpretation of constitutional language. All the panel members agreed that Massachusetts, with a relatively similar constitution, is largely recognized as the state with the best public education system.

Cooper said that Massachusetts was not an anomaly, and many “others are doing better than us with very similarly worded constitutions.”

The fourth panelist was Ina Lipman, the executive director the Children’s Scholarship Fund, which awards tuition grants to low-income students to attend private schools. The money comes from two tax-credit programs for businesses, which get tax write-offs when they contribute to these funds.

Lipman said she thought school choice would improve if some of the state’s very small districts consolidated.

After the discussion, moderator Kristen Graham, the Inquirer’s Philadelphia schools beat reporter, interviewed Superintendent William Hite. She began by asking whether he believed that Philadelphia students were receiving a fair and equal education.

Hite responded with one word: “No.” He chuckled, and the auditorium erupted with laughter.

But the level of inequity is no laughing matter. Hite went on to talk about what the Philadelphia School District lacks due to insufficient resources.

Among other things, he said, he would use additional funds to “double down” on early childhood education including universal pre-K. He also reiterated that he hopes to get a new contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers this year.


School Districts, Parents Take School Funding Challenge to State’s Highest Court

Harrisburg, Pa. –Today school districts, parents and two statewide associations filed an appeal in Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging last month’s Commonwealth Court decision, which dismissed a lawsuit contesting the state’s failure to adequately and equitably fund Pennsylvania’s public schools as required by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The state Supreme Court is obligated to hear the appeal. Continue reading