Trial in our school funding lawsuit now set to begin October 12
Mark your calendars! Trial in our historic school funding lawsuit will now start on October 12 in Harrisburg.

The one-month shift was announced by Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer at a pre-trial conference on August 17. Read more about the new schedule for trial at Fund Our Schools PA, a joint project from us and our co-counsel at Education Law Center-PA.

At trial, we will make it clear that our state legislature must fulfill its duty to fund public schools in every community, so that all students, no matter where they grow up, have the support they need to reach their potential.
A new receiver is chosen in Chester Upland SD, backed by the district’s largest charter operator
On August 13, a Delaware County Court of Common Pleas judge appointed a new receiver who has never worked in a school to lead Chester Upland School District, passing over a candidate supported by both the Pennsylvania Department of Education and district leaders in order to appoint a local politician. The newly appointed receiver, Nafis Nichols, was boosted by Chester Community Charter School (CCCS), the district’s largest charter school operator. We and many parents and educators in Chester believe that this is a troubling conflict of interest, and that a district facing substantial challenges should not be led by someone with no experience in education administration. 

In June, Chester Upland School District’s previous receiver, Dr. Juan Baughn, rejected bids from three charter operators, including CCCS, to take over multiple district schools as part of an RFP process. We felt that this was the right decision: none of the bidders made a case that their proposals could improve both financial stability and educational quality in the district. Throughout the RFP process, we represented district parents and the Delaware County Advocacy and Resource Organization, along with co-counsel from Education Law Center-PA. 

Dr. Baughn announced that he would be resigning effective August 31 soon after. At an August 5th court hearing to determine his replacement, Mr. Nichols’ candidacy was revealed to PDE and district leaders for the first time, though he had expressed his interest in a private letter sent to the court on July 25. The letter was accompanied by letters of support from Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland and State Senator John Kane. Attorneys for CCCS boosted his candidacy in the hearing, claiming that the receivership process had been “hijacked” to “wage a war against charter schools.” At the hearing, Mr. Nichols revealed that he had not read the Financial Recovery Plan he would implement as receiver, and that he was unfamiliar with several basic education finance issues—such as what receiving Title 1 funds entails. 

CCCS indicated in the hearing that it intends to challenge the previous receiver’s decision to reject its bid to take over district schools. The charter organization—managed by CSMI, a for-profit company—is also being sued by the district for $7 million in tuition overpayments, and Chester Upland SD, led by a receiver, is the organization that supervises CCCS’s charter. 

“It feels like a big conflict of interest,” staff attorney Claudia De Palma told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We are concerned that a new receiver could start [the RFP] process over again and come to a different conclusion.” Read more in coverage from WHYY and the Philadelphia Inquirer. 
Victory! The PA Legislative Reapportionment Commission takes on prison gerrymandering 
On August 24, Pennsylvania took a big step forward as a democracy. In a 3-2 vote, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission (LRC) adopted a resolution to count state prisoners at their home addresses, rather than the addresses of their cells, when determining legislative district boundaries.

We have long been at the center of efforts to push the LRC to adopt this reform. In 2016, we filed a public comment with the U.S. Census Bureau, proposing that it change its rules to count prisoners at their home addresses. Since then, we have continued to meet with state officials, to educate the public, and to provide decision makers with expert legal and factual information.

Pennsylvania now joins 10 other states during this redistricting cycle that will end the practice known as “prison gerrymandering,” counting prisoners in their cells when drawing legislative district lines. In Pennsylvania, this practice has warped representation in Harrisburg by giving an unfair population boost to districts where state prisons are located. These districts are predominantly rural and white, while Pennsylvania prisoners are disproportionately Black, Latino, and from urban communities.

“Prisoners seldom have ties to the communities near their prisons and nearly always return to their hometowns upon release,” our Executive Director Brenda Marrero wrote in an August 19 op-ed for Generocity. “They cannot use their temporary prison addresses to vote in local elections or enroll their kids in public schools. Legislators who represent districts containing prisons generally do not treat people incarcerated there as constituents.”

This decision recognizes that incarcerated Pennsylvanians should be represented in Harrisburg as part of their communities—not counted in districts they often have no connection to, at their hometown’s expense. This work is supported as part of the Jeffrey Golan & Frances Vilella-Vélez Voting Justice Project.
Welcome Michael Athy, Staff Attorney!
We're so excited to welcome Michael Athy to the Law Center as a staff attorney, focused on issues pertaining to people with disabilities!

Prior to joining the Law Center, Michael was a staff attorney with Advocates for Children in New York City, where he focused on special education law, advocating for families of children with disabilities and representing them in administrative hearings. He was previously a litigation associate at Clearly Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP. Read more on our website. Help welcome Michael by liking his post on Facebook!
Welcome Leanne Almeida, Program Coordinator!
We're so excited to welcome Leanne Almeida to the Law Center as our program coordinator!

Before joining the Law Center, Leanne was a legal assistant and organizer with the Worker Defense Project, a community organization in Austin for low-wage and immigrant workers in the Texas construction industry. Read more on our website. Help us welcome Leanne by liking her post on Facebook!
Join us October 21 for our Annual Celebration: The Promise of Equity and Justice
On October 21, join us for our annual gala as we celebrate all those who are helping to advance equity and justice in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. Our celebration will be held live at Vie on Broad Street, or simulcast in your home.

Featuring a performance from the Philadelphia Dance Company PHILADANCO!, a nonprofit organization that presents the highest quality of professional dance performance and cultivates the skills of emerging and professional dancers and choreographers in a nurturing environment, while increasing the appreciation of dance among its many communities. Across the nation and around the world, PHILADANCO! is celebrated for its innovation, creativity and preservation of predominantly African-American traditions in dance. 

For tickets, sponsorships or more information, please contact Michael Berton at mberton@pubintlaw.org or 267-546-1303.

When: Thursday, October 21, 2021, 6-9 p.m.

Where: Vie, 600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia PA