December 2020
A Decade of Shortchanging Students with Disabilities in PA
A just-released report from the Education Law Center and PA Schools Work finds that for a decade now, the rising expenditures devoted to educating students with disabilities in Pennsylvania have been borne almost entirely by local school districts. Out of every new dollar spent on special education in the state over that decade, local districts have provided 92 cents. State special education aid has been virtually flat. The report includes a spreadsheet detailing special education funding and spending for every Pennsylvania school district and the pattern of declining state share.
“When adequate basic and special education state funding is not available, poorer districts the communities least able to compensate for state underfunding through local tax increases and the students within them are acutely harmed,” the report states. The solution: recurring annual increases of $100 million or more in state aid for special education.
With Trial Approaching, Website and Webinars Lay Out School Funding Issues
The long-awaited trial in our lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s school funding system, William Penn School District et al. v. PA Department of Education et al., is now projected for early 2021. ELC and our co-counsel at the Public Interest Law Center are working to ensure that all those who have a stake in a positive ruling in this case are well-informed and prepared to advocate for adequate and equitable funding before, during, and after the trial.

We have jointly launched a new website, at, along with matching social media accounts. And we are offering webinars to provide a more in-depth understanding of the case and to offer a chance to discuss it with the attorneys who are taking it to trial. Last month’s PA Schools Work webinar about the lawsuit is available for viewing. Please contact us if you have a group that would like to host a 30- or 60-minute webinar about the funding case.
Inadequate Budgets: A Harrisburg Tradition 
Last spring, the Pennsylvania legislature voted to flat-fund education for the next 12 months, while providing only five months of funding to many other departments. That forced legislators and the governor to negotiate a midyear budget in November. They used federal funds as a stopgap.
The net result for Pennsylvania schools: Still no new dollars. All this happens at a time when local tax revenue has declined and schools are encountering growing costs due to COVID-19 and growing enrollments in cyber charters as well as other long-term expenditure trends. Our students are not getting what they need from the state budget. That’s especially hard on students in our lowest-wealth school districts, where funding shortfalls impact large numbers of the state’s Black and brown students.

The incoming legislature in Harrisburg looks a lot like the outgoing legislature, but we need them to act differently including being willing to find new revenue sources to meet urgent needs of students who are being underserved. Let’s commit to ensuring our next budget is one that addresses educational rights and needs of Pennsylvania’s school children.
Once More: Pass a Federal Stimulus Package!
The federal government has the financial capacity to respond to the growing needs created by COVID-19 and the economic downturn it can borrow money. But Congress has been stalemated for months, with the Senate unwilling to consider a robust stimulus package, including aid to schools and state and local governments that are staring at fiscal crisis.
Congress is in session it’s the last chance in 2020 to take action and make the looming dark winter a little less grim. We join with our partners at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center to ask you to email your representative in the US House and Senators Pat Toomey and Bob Casey to advocate for a comprehensive pandemic relief package.
IDEA Turns 45.
We Remain Committed to Its Promise
Nov. 29, 2020 marked the 45th anniversary of the signing of the law now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. It established the guarantee of a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to every child, regardless of disability, on an equal basis with all other children. It gave parents of students with disabilities a say in their child’s education. Its impact is sweeping: More than 7.5 million infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities from birth through age 21 were served under the IDEA in 2018-19. Here are some more fast facts about the law and its history and a video about its impact for students.

There is much more work to be done: At ELC, we continue to challenge racial and ethnic disparities in special education eligibility, placement, and school discipline. Along with our partners in the disability rights movement, we are celebrating the gains we have made while continuing to defend the right of all students to FAPE and to advocate for full funding for IDEA.
Panel: Reparations in Education Needed to Address Racism 
ELC staff attorney Paige Joki was a featured panelist on Nov. 20, speaking on reparations in education at “Breaking the Chain of Oppression: Comprehensive Reparations,” a program sponsored by the Black Law Students’ Association at Penn Law School. Jocelyn Walcott, ELC’s Black girls’ education justice legal volunteer, moderated the panel. Paige and other panelists directly addressed legacies of anti-Black racism and grave harm originating in American slavery and discussed what comprehensive reparations could and should look like to repair these multigenerational harms experienced by Black people in America. Stay tuned for a forthcoming video of the presentation.
Districts Must Do Better at Serving Students Experiencing Homelessness
When a Western Pennsylvania school district denied protections to two high schoolers who were experiencing homelessness, ELC filed a complaint with the state to enforce the McKinney-Vento Act, the federal law that affords rights to students experiencing homelessness. We won a favorable determination from the state, calling for individual relief for the two students and requiring the district to provide professional development to its staff to better identify and support all students experiencing homelessness.

ELC also negotiated a settlement with the district on behalf of the two students to compensate for their loss of education caused by the district's actions.
Thank You for Giving on Tuesday!
We appreciate the tremendous response from our supporters to our Giving Tuesday appeal. Through dozens of contributions on Facebook and on our website, we raised more than $8,000. These dollars help us ensure that all children in Pennsylvania have access to quality public education. Thanks to Generocity for recognizing ELC in its Giving Tuesday coverage! It’s not too late to support our work.
We're Hiring a Policy Director
ELC seeks an experienced professional for a full-time policy advocacy position in our Philadelphia office. The candidate should have a demonstrated commitment to public interest law, racial justice, civil rights, and advancing the rights of underserved populations. Please click here to learn more about the position.
What We're Reading...
Education Law Center | 215-238-6970 (Philadelphia)| 412-258-2120 (Pittsburgh)|
A copy of the official registration and financial information of the Education Law Center may be obtained from the Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania, 1-880-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.