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June News: Fair Funding Case Moves Forward, Funding Battle Comes to a Head, Suspension Limits, and more...
Victory in Latest Round of School Funding Lawsuit

The PA Commonwealth Court on May 7 overruled objections filed by state legislative leaders and moved our school funding lawsuit closer to trial. Here's the coverage of the latest round in our challenge to the state's broken education funding system in the Inquirer, the Notebook, and WHYY.The Court spelled out the next steps in the case, directing the parties to address two issues before it goes to trial: whether the state's adoption of a funding formula renders the case moot and whether education is an important or fundamental right under Pennsylvania law. The latter issue will dictate what level of scrutiny the court will apply to evaluate whether gross disparities between low- and high-wealth school districts violate equal protection provisions of our state constitution. Legislative leaders are in the unenviable position of arguing that Pennsylvania's school funding problems have been solved and that education is not an important right in Pennsylvania. Briefs on the mootness issue are due in early July, where we will highlight that only 2% of all state education spending runs through the funding formula. Stay tuned!
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Legal Director Maura McInerney and Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr with partners and plaintiffs in the fair funding suit following March's oral argument.
This Year's Funding Battle Comes to a Head in Harrisburg, while ELC Continues Advocacy

June is the month that the state must adopt a spending plan for the coming fiscal year. There is still uncertainty about whether Gov. Wolf's proposal for modest increases in state funding for basic education ($100 million) and special education ($20 million) can win approval in the legislature. ELC supports those increases as a step in the right direction and encourages you to call your Pennsylvania senator and representative and urge them to vote for no less than those amounts. ELC will be joining other advocates at a press conference in Harrisburg on June 6 to push for legislative action to address the enormous funding shortfalls facing school districts all across the state.

On May 16, Policy Attorney Reynelle Brown Staley testified before Philadelphia City Council to  urge support for the Mayor's proposed budget increase for Philadelphia public schools. She  also urged support for additional investments in programs and services to support a safe and healthy school environment, such as counselors and improved facilities.
Philly and Pittsburgh Move to Limit Suspensions of Young Children

During Philadelphia City Council hearings this month on the school district's budget, Superintendent William Hite reiterated that Philadelphia intends to implement a ban on suspensions in grades K-2 in the fall, expanding the current ban on kindergarten suspensions. Happily, we expect the district's 2018-19 Code of Conduct to spell out that ban, a reform for which we have long advocated.

Pittsburgh Public Schools have already passed a K-2 suspension ban for minor, non-violent conduct, which goes into effect this fall, and ELC has participated in the review and revision of the Code of Student Conduct for the upcoming school year. We urged the District to ensure that students are given the greatest opportunity to stay in school, with supports and services, emphasizing the value of race-positive, gender-responsive, and inclusive interventions.
ELC Joins 38 Organizations Urging Robust Civil Rights Enforcement  for Students of Color with Disabilities

ELC continues to fight federal efforts to roll back civil rights enforcement at the U.S. Department of Education. We joined over three dozen federal, state, and local partners in sending a letter to Secretary DeVos urging the Department to fully enforce the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provisions regarding significant racial and ethnic disproportionality in the identification, placement, and discipline of students with disabilities.  The Department of Education issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on February 27, 2018 indicating its intent to delay implementation of the Equity in IDEA regulations.  We continue to support - and urge others to support - efforts to stop the proposed delay. Here is the letter we signed.
ELC Produces Fact Sheet to Help Philadelphia-Area Families Address Health Hazards in Public Schools

Philadelphia's children are suffering the effects of attending underfunded schools.  A Philadelphia Inquirer series called "Toxic City - Sick Schools," published in May, has highlighted health threats identified in Philadelphia public school facilities. These threats include environmental hazards such as mold and other asthma triggers, lead in paint, and asbestos. ELC created a guide for parent concerns and advocacy on these issues, which can be viewed here.
Philadelphia City Council Hearing Spotlights Problems with Institutional Placements

ELC has been working with a coalition of advocates to address the plight of the roughly over 900 Philadelphia children and youth in the foster care and delinquency systems who are in institutional placements, often far from home. ELC testified at a well-attended Philadelphia City Council hearing.  Our testimony highlighted the substandard, often below-grade level, and sometimes nonexistent educational services in these residential placements, the disruption caused by such placements, and the challenges students face upon returning to their neighborhood schools -- including obtaining credit for coursework completed at on-grounds schools. Powerful testimony by youth and advocates pointed to the need to build community-based, trauma-informed alternatives.  We anticipate a multi-year collaborative initiative to reduce the number of Philadelphia youth in residential placements. Follow the ongoing work on Twitter at the hashtag #SafelyHomePhilly
Legal Director Maura McInerney testifying at City Council.

Appeals Court Upholds PA Transgender Students' Rights

ELC congratulates Pennsylvania Youth Congress and the student advocates who, through representation provided by our colleagues at ACLU and the ACLU of Pennsylvania, recently won a favorable decision on behalf of transgender students in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. ELC joined in the Anti-Defamation League's amicus brief, which advocated for transgender students' right to use facilities that align with their gender identities in the face of legal challenges brought by transphobic cisgender students. The bench decision affirmed the lower court's decision finding that the cisgender plaintiffs in Boyertown, PA, were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims. 
ELC Seeks Support for HB 1745: Fostering Independence Through Education Act

ELC joins Juvenile Law Center and other advocates in supporting important state legislation that will provide tuition and fee waivers and other critical supports for youth who have been in the foster care system and seek to attend select Pennsylvania higher education institutions.  HB 1745 helps eliminate many of the unique barriers youth formerly in foster care face in entering and completing higher education, such as accessing financial aid, gathering verification documents, and connecting to support services in college. Join us in voicing your support. Learn more here, and contact your legislator here.
Staff Attorney Honored as Restorative Justice Champion

Staff Attorney Cheryl Kleiman was recently recognized as a restorative justice champion by our Pittsburgh partners, A+ Schools, and featured in this video on the importance of restorative practices as an alternative to exclusion and a critical tool in creating school environments that are safe, inclusive, and affirming of all students.

ELC Trains Community Partners on the Rights of English Learners

On May 21, ELC collaborated with All for All, ARYSE, and Sevenzo, as part of the Global Minds Initiative, to train school personnel, community leaders, advocates, and parents on the educational rights of English Learners (ELs) and limited English proficient (LEP) parents. During the training, ELC's Equal Justice Works fellow, Jackie Perlow, engaged the audience in an interactive session on topics ranging from enrollment to special education to bullying and harassment, in order to promote increased awareness and improved educational outcomes for ELs. Following the training, a panel of students, teachers, and community leaders, engaged in an in-depth conversation about the lived experiences of immigrant and refugee students in southwestern PA. 
ELC Welcomes Summer Interns

ELC is pleased to welcome summer legal interns Haley Pritchard and Hetali Lodaya, and communications intern, Maddie Ireland.  Haley is a law student at the University of Pennsylvania and brings experience working in advocacy for the rights of girls and young women in Northeast Florida, with a focus on young women in the juvenile justice system.  Hetali is a law student at the University of Michigan and worked at a STEM and entrepreneurship education nonprofit before starting law school. Maddie is an undergraduate student at NYU and is majoring in Global Liberal Studies with a concentration in Law, Ethics, and Religion. Welcome! Later this month, we will welcome additional interns in our Pittsburgh and Philadelphia offices.
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