March 2021
In Favorable Decision, Court Denies Motion in School Funding Lawsuit
In a favorable February 18 ruling in our fair funding case, Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court denied the State Board of Education’s motion attempting to dismiss all claims against it on the ground that the board plays no role in determining school funding. The court agreed with our position that the board qualifies as an indispensable party, thereby precluding dismissal. The court also granted in part our application to file an additional expert rebuttal report in response to an expert report submitted by Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman. 

The court will hear oral argument March 2 on a motion that seeks to dismiss two parent petitioners (from Philadelphia and Wilkes-Barre) on the ground that their children have now graduated. Thereafter, a scheduling conference is expected to determine the dates for trial, which we expect to take place later this year.

Meanwhile, we continue to work with our co-counsel at the Public Interest Law Center to build awareness and support for the lawsuit. We are encouraging people across the state to share their own stories about the impact of school underfunding. Learn more about our fair funding case here.
Equity and Adequacy Both Addressed in Governor’s Budget Plan
Encouraged by Gov. Wolf’s ambitious school funding proposal in his February budget address, ELC and our partners in the statewide PA Schools Work campaign are urging the legislature to take significant action on fair funding. It is important to let your Pennsylvania state legislators know that children in under-resourced school districts across the state urgently need and deserve every dollar of the governor’s proposal.

This proposed $1.35 billion boost in basic education funding is the kind of investment that school district administrators, educators, and parents have been pleading for from the General Assembly for years. It would provide significant relief to the most underfunded districts with the greatest need, without taking away funding from any other district. The governor’s proposal also includes a $200 million increase in special education and reforms to the state’s flawed rules for charter school funding. It is true that U.S. schools are also expecting a massive federal aid package of COVID-19-related dollars via the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, but that one-time infusion of emergency aid will not solve our longstanding, multi-billion underfunding of Pennsylvania’s schools. It’s time for Pennsylvania legislators to step up.
Chester Upland Fight over
Privatization Heats Up
ELC, along with Public Interest Law Center, represents a group of Chester parents and the Delaware County Advocacy & Resource Organization, fighting a fast-tracked plan to outsource schools in the district, which is under receivership. We have focused on the need for greater parent input, transparency, and the need to establish that any proposed outsourcing will improve the quality of education, serve all students, and result in cost savings. 

Bidders had to submit proposals for outsourcing by Feb 25. Chester Community Charter School, the district's current largest charter operator, announced that it is seeking to convert two of the district's elementary schools to charters. Six other charter operators or for-profit educational management companies expressed interest in submitting bids. 

At a rally on Feb. 6, ELC legal director Maura McInerney explained the potential impact of both the school funding lawsuit and Chester Upland receivership matter, highlighting how decades of underfunding and systemic racism had harmed Chester Upland students. As state Sen. Anthony Williams explained at a rally in Media on Feb. 27: “It's about any child, anywhere in Pennsylvania,” he said. “The same thing will happen to them. That means if it happens in Chester, look over your shoulder for a privatized school, for profit, coming to your community. … We say no. You will not sell my children.”

Supporters of Chester public schools rallied for educational equity at the Media Courthouse Feb. 27.
Black Lives Matter Week of Action
Highlights Racial Injustice in Schools
ELC promoted and participated in the annual Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action in February, a national racial justice coalition effort including events, curriculum and classroom resources, and raising of needed reforms. 

In a Feb. 11 online event titled “Phreedom Dreaming,” ELC staff attorney Paige Joki joined with other Philadelphia advocates, Councilmember Kendra Brooks, parents, current students, and artists to envision what a safe and positive school environment would look like for schools to serve Black students and communities. Paige highlighted the need for systemic change in school discipline policies that punish students for “showing up Black in a space,” such as discriminatory dress code polices or treating Black students more harshly than their white peers. She also described the ways that parents, typically Black mothers, are targeted with parental exclusion notices, after raising educational rights-related concerns about their child’s school. These notices threaten them with arrest if they go into their child’s school without a prior appointment. The event was co-sponsored by two Philadelphia-based activist groups: the Racial Justice Organizing Committee and POPPYN, a youth media project, and was moderated by Philadelphia Student Union.
Advocates for Immigrant and Refugee Students Exchange Resources, Strategies
ELC convened the Education Justice Network for Immigrants and Refugees Stakeholder Group in February to discuss the education of linguistically and culturally diverse students during the pandemic. This diverse group of Western Pennsylvania advocates, community leaders, and attorneys functions as a network to support education justice for English learners and their families.

Stakeholders shared resources and best practices to benefit students and families as well as current federal guidance related to language assessments and programs. The group also discussed strategies to address barriers to access and equity that English learners and their families face during the pandemic. If your organization would like more information about the group, contact ELC staff attorney Hetal Dhagat.
Survey Seeks Feedback from Immigrant and Refugee Students and Parents
Do you want to help make your school district more welcoming and supportive for immigrant and refugee students and families? Education Law Center is partnering with the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC) to collect anonymous and confidential responses from immigrant and refugee students in grades 4-12 and parents with children in grades K-12 statewide to better understand their educational experiences in Pennsylvania. Your input is critical to putting together policy recommendations for your local school district and schools to ensure that all immigrant, asylee, and refugee students and their families are welcome at school. PICC is a statewide coalition with over 50 community-based organizations supporting immigrant communities.

The student and parent surveys are available in seven languages. The deadline to complete these surveys is March 15.

Protecting Rights of Students
Threatened by Immigration Enforcement
Please join us to support the launch of a new Sanctuary Schools campaign from our partner Juntos, a community-led human rights advocacy organization in South Philadelphia. On March 1, Juntos launched this campaign to protect the rights of students and families to access education free from immigration enforcement in Philadelphia public schools. Juntos has released results of a survey of almost 350 teachers, administrators, and school staff, showing that more training is needed on how to protect students and families from ICE enforcement.
   
ELC Seeks to Fix Policies to Support Quality Education for Students in Placement
Just over a year ago, Gov. Tom Wolf put in place a task force to respond to growing concerns over racial disparities in the juvenile justice system and lack of accountability within the state's youth institutions. On Feb. 3, ELC submitted comprehensive recommendations on education concerns to this bipartisan Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force. An overarching goal of the task force is to issue data-driven policy recommendations to strengthen Pennsylvania’s juvenile justice system through statutory, budgetary, and administrative changes.

The task force's current draft recommendations include decreasing referrals to the juvenile justice system and reinvesting savings in the community, expanding pre-trial diversion programs, and mostly eliminating court fines and fees. But recommendations do not yet address educational barriers for youth. ELC provided recommendations to support students to remain in their community and to ensure access to a quality education with rigorous oversight for youth who may remain in placement. We are hopeful that these will be included as the task force meets for a final time on March 17 and issues final recommendations to the General Assembly.
ELC Testifies to Phila. City Council on
Equity Needs of Virtual Learners
ELC legal director Maura McInerney presented testimony at a Feb. 17 Philadelphia City Council hearing on safely reopening schools and bridging the digital divide. ELC’s testimony focused on the continuing needs of students, particularly those in middle and high school, who are continuing to learn remotely. We made recommendations regarding technology barriers, which disproportionately harm Black and Brown students; the need for greater communication with limited English proficient parents and targeted supports for English learners and students with disabilities; and expanding eligibility for brick-and-mortar ACCESS Centers for children experiencing homelessness and others who lack support to learn virtually.

ELC staff attorney Margie Wakelin also emphasized the persistent, widespread barriers to digital access and their harmful impact on students in an NBC10 investigative story last month about families struggling with virtual learning.
We're Hiring!
ELC is seeking an attorney for a full-time position in our Philadelphia office. A temporary position (3-6 months) to focus on urgent trial matters may also be considered (timeline to be determined). Primary duties will focus on impact litigation and direct representation of clients and will also include working with community partners and informing our policy advocacy at the local, state, and federal levels. The candidate should have a demonstrated commitment to racial justice, public interest law, civil rights, and advancing the rights of underserved populations. Learn more here.

See our website for policy and development job opportunities at ELC. 
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