August 2018
ELC Challenges Discriminatory Enrollment Practice at a Philadelphia Charter
As part of our efforts to ensure equal access to education, ELC is advocating on behalf of a family that experienced blatant discrimination at a Philadelphia charter school. The student was enrolled at Franklin Towne Charter High School, but when the school later learned that the student’s IEP called for emotional support services, the school reversed itself and denied the child admission. After trying for months to get a response from Franklin Towne, the student’s grandmother asked ELC for help. ELC issued a demand letter detailing what happened and calling on the school to acknowledge the discrimination and correct the practices that led to it, as well as to refund school fees the family had paid.

Recent media coverage of the case has helped ELC raise public awareness of two important and related issues: that public schools – including charters – cannot decline to serve students based on disability, and that the charter school sector in Pennsylvania serves a disproportionately small share of students who have disabilities that are more complex or expensive to address. We await a full response from the school.
Making the Case for Fair Funding in Court
It's a busy time in our litigation challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s broken school funding system. This summer, our attorneys have been preparing responses to two issues raised by the court before the case can move to trial in Commonwealth Court: 1) whether the state's adoption of a funding formula in 2016 renders the case moot, and 2) whether or not education is an important or fundamental right under Pennsylvania law, which will drive how the court treats the gross disparities in education funding between low-wealth and high-wealth school districts. Unlike the legislative leaders who continue to seek dismissal on mootness grounds, Governor Wolf’s counsel has requested that the case move toward trial.

Legislative leaders have until August 6 to present their argument that the case is moot. We thoroughly rebutted this claim in a brief we filed in July along with our partners at the Public Interest Law Center. It highlighted that state funding for classroom expenses in Pennsylvania has actually declined over the past four years, and the funding gaps between wealthy and poor school districts have widened. The affidavits we submitted from our petitioner school districts and parents presented overwhelming evidence that school funding is still woefully inadequate. We are currently conducting discovery and anticipate filing briefs later this fall on the issue of the right to education under Pennsylvania law. The court is expected to order a briefing schedule and schedule the case for trial following these submissions.

Meanwhile, follow our school funding legislative advocacy through the statewide campaign PA Schools Work.
Breaking News: Fostering Graduation Success for Vulnerable Students
Yesterday, new legislation was introduced to support marginalized youth who are at high risk of not graduating from high school due to frequent school changes caused by homelessness or involvement in the foster care or juvenile justice system. ELC, along with our partners at Juvenile Law Center, pushed for these changes to Pennsylvania’s School Code to support students and keep them on track to graduate. H.B. 2573, introduced by Rep. Tallman and others, amends the School Code to ensure that students receive academic credits for coursework completed at prior schools, have opportunities to make up lost credits or have requirements waived, and can access a full range of educational opportunities. The legislation also ensures that these students have a point of contact in school and permits students who meet state standards but are unable to graduate due to local district requirements to receive a state-issued diploma.  Please contact   your state representative to urge support of this important bill!
ELC Attorney Leads Session for Student Leaders
ELC attorney Yvelisse Pelotte led a July 19 session for a group of 15 student leaders as part of a leadership conference being hosted by the Philadelphia Student Union. Her session focused on the Philadelphia School District Code of Conduct and how it can be used by students to advocate for equity, justice, and an improved school climate. She and the students had an engaging conversation about exclusionary discipline, the importance of restorative justice, and how students can harness their leadership skills and training to promote healthy interpersonal relationships and communication.
Building Parent Power: ELC Provides Rights Training in Pittsburgh
ELC attorney Cheryl Kleiman presented at the One Pennsylvania-Education Rights Network’s Parent Education Justice Conference July 21 with Duquesne University School of Law’s Tiffany Sizemore Thompson. Cheryl and Tiffany informed parents of their rights in education and how lawyers support collective action. ELC deeply values these partnerships with our community collaborators, allowing us to raise issues of access and equity, while building parent and student power to address them together.
Tiffany and Cheryl at the One Pennsylvania-Education Rights Network Parent Education Justice Conference.
Improving School Climate in Pittsburgh Public Schools for the 2018-19 School Year
As part of our ongoing work to decrease the use of exclusionary discipline and address bias and disability discrimination in schools, ELC worked in collaboration with community partners and District lawyers to inform significant changes to the Pittsburgh Public Schools’ Code of Student Conduct adopted this month by the Board. Because of our collaborative work, the Code now incorporates the K-2 suspension ban – the result of years of advocacy – and implements multiple other revisions to the Code, district policies, and practices that improve school climate and ensure access, equity, and inclusion in Pittsburgh schools.
“PA Not Keeping Up in Funding for Schools”: Letter to the Editor by ELC Board Member
ELC Board member Lisa Silverman recently published a letter to the editor published in TribLIVE . In it, she discusses the financial strains faced by school districts and the role chronic underfunding by state government plays in creating budget shortfalls. Lisa is an attorney and parent advocate in Pittsburgh.
Call Your Senators to Urge Support for Youth in Foster Care
While 70% of all youth in the foster care system aspire to go to college, only a small fraction enter college and even fewer graduate due to numerous barriers they face.  HB 1745 – which passed unanimously in the Pennsylvania House -- would reduce these barriers by providing crucial financial assistance and staff support to youth who have been in foster care, enabling them to complete their higher education and make a successful transition to adulthood. Please join ELC in urging Pennsylvania’s state senators  to support this bill.
We’re Hiring!
ELC has several job opportunities available, including a Philadelphia-based Director of Finance and Operations, a Philadelphia-based Paralegal, and a Pittsburgh-based Staff Attorney. Please visit this webpage for more information on each position.
ELC Philadelphia Returns Home After Water Main Break
In early July, ELC’s Philadelphia offices were affected by a large water main break. Our staff was displaced from our offices for almost two weeks. We want to extend the warmest of thanks to the many partner organizations who offered us their support. In particular, thank you to the law firm Stradley Ronon, which welcomed us into their offices. We enjoyed their hospitality (and terrific views). We are very happy to be back in our offices. Read more about the adventure in this Generocity article.
Aftermath of the water main break on Sansom Street.
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