May 2021
School Funding Lawsuit Is on Track for a September Trial! 
Last month, we learned the tentative trial start date for the historic school funding lawsuit we filed in 2014 against Pennsylvania officials: September 9. More details are to come when the judge holds a scheduling conference in June. Here are links to news coverage from around the state.

While we prepare for trial, along with our partners at the Public Interest Law Center, we continue to build public awareness of the importance of the case, through the FundOurSchoolsPA website, webinars, social media, and this video that we hope you will watch and share.

In the words of ELC legal director Maura McInerney, “At trial, we will show that Pennsylvania’s Constitution requires that our public school system work for all students, regardless of where they live, their skin color, how much money their family or community has, or what language they speak at home.”
Level Up Campaign Aims to Boost
100 Underfunded School Districts
Education Law Center, along with a coalition of more than a dozen organizations, has launched a campaign to increase state funding for the 100 most severely underfunded school districts in Pennsylvania. The state has some of the nation’s widest gaps between wealthy and poor school districts.

The campaign’s focus is legislation (HB 1167) introduced by Rep. Mike Schlossberg (D-Allentown) to create a new funding stream targeted at the most underfunded districts. These represent only 20% of the state’s districts but serve 65% of Pennsylvania's Black students, 58% of its Latinx students, and 58% of its students in poverty. Read press coverage here and here. Sign up here to join the campaign.
Report Challenges Exclusionary Discipline
and Its Discriminatory Impact
A new report recommending strategies for policy makers to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline and address disparities in school discipline has been issued by the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The report, based on two public briefing sessions in 2019, is called “Disparate and Punitive Impact of Exclusionary Practices on Students of Color, Students with Disabilities and LGBTQ Students in Pennsylvania Public Schools.”

The report presents data illustrating the discriminatory nature of exclusionary discipline and its disruptive and harmful impact. Recommendations include banning exclusionary discipline for nonviolent offenses, implementing positive behavioral supports and trauma-informed restorative practices, improving data collection, and increasing funding to devote to creating positive school climates. ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr served as a member of the advisory committee.
Confronting Racialized
Exclusionary Discipline in Charters
ELC staff attorney Paige Joki urged inclusion of equity measures in evaluating whether to authorize or renew Philadelphia area charter schools in testimony before the policy committee of Philadelphia’s Board of Education on April 15. The board currently uses a Charter School Performance Framework that is based on academic, operational, and financial measures.
 
ELC’s testimony highlighted students' rights to be free from racism at school and the ways that racialized school discipline policies such as discriminatory grooming codes that punish students for expressing their cultural identity at school, subjective violations of schools' codes of conduct, and the issuance of parental exclusion notices push Black and Brown learners, particularly Black girls, out of education spaces. ELC also asked the board to ensure that complaints of racial harassment and discrimination received by the Charter School Office are part of the evaluation framework. 
Testimony to PA Senate Hearing
Highlights Gaps in Mental Health Supports
ELC attorney Hetal Dhagat presents to the PA Senate Education Committee.
At an April 23 hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee on recommended K-12 education reforms, ELC staff attorney Hetal Dhagat gave testimony highlighting the need for increased school mental health supports that are both culturally responsive and trauma-informed. She said this is a particularly vital for Black girls, whose need for mental health supports is often misinterpreted and met with discipline, pushing them out of schools.

ELC’s testimony at this Western Pennsylvania hearing addressed the need for greater supports for students with disabilities and English learners, who have been greatly impacted by the pivot to remote learning. Our testimony also advocated for schools to be given the flexibility to use community and school-based supports to address school attendance issues and to avoid the use of truancy penalties and fines, which are not effective tools to increase school attendance. Hetal urged the Education Committee to commit to a sustained increase in fair and equitable funding to ensure that all schools in Pennsylvania have resources to meet their unique needs.
Amicus Briefs Defend
Free Speech Rights of Students
ELC tuned in to listen to oral argument last week as the U.S. Supreme Court heard B.L. v. Mahanoy Area School District a rare school discipline case to reach the high court. The question of school district’s authority to punish off-campus, non-threatening speech is timely, as many students are still learning remotely. ELC joined an amicus brief, led by the Advancement Project and Juvenile Law Center, in support of the Pennsylvania student at the heart of the case, who is represented by ACLU Pennsylvania.
The U.S Supreme Court
These same issues are in front of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. ELC joined with ACLU Pennsylvania in filing an amicus brief in support of the student who was expelled for off-campus speech in J.S. v. Manheim Township School District, stressing the importance of maintaining critical due process protections in PA school discipline proceedings, especially for Black girls, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students. This case will be argued on May 18.
ELC Advocates for Education Rights of Youth Before PA Juvenile Justice Task Force
The Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Task Force, commissioned by Gov. Wolf to deliver policy recommendations aimed at improving the juvenile justice system, is preparing to release its final report. The task force’s timeline was extended after advocacy from ELC and others, identifying important issues still to be addressed.
 
Testimony from ELC legal director Maura McInerney and ELC’s Independence Foundation law fellow Ashli Giles-Perkins on April 14 urged members to include recommendations for oversight of education quality in residential facilities, including detention centers.
 
In Pittsburgh, ELC attorney Cheryl Kleiman joined with Alliance for Police Accountability, 1Hood, and One Pennsylvania for an emergency town hall to raise awareness of the task’s force’s recommendations and mobilize support for their enactment.

One pending task force recommendation calls for the creation of a state Office of the Child Advocate to provide independent oversight over out-of-home placements for youth adjudicated delinquent. On April 8, before the Children and Youth Committee of the Philadelphia City Council, ELC testified in support of the creation of an independent Youth Ombudsman's office to receive and investigate concerns from youth and families about safety or services for young people in congregate care or other forms of detention.
Ending the Epidemic of Police Violence, Killing
The April 20 guilty verdict in police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd was an important moment of truth for our nation. But its immediate aftermath has only heightened the awareness and urgency of stopping the epidemic of police violence targeting Black and Brown people. Six killings by police took place within 24 hours of the verdict, including the devastating shooting of Ma’khia Bryant, a 16-year-old girl. Since 2015, more than 100 children, most of them Black or Brown, have now died at the hands of police. Rarely is there accountability for these deaths. We must support our communities through this trauma and build stronger movements to dismantle systemic racism and forge a truly safe and just society.

In the education realm, we appreciate the continued efforts to support educators and students and respond to police violence and racism by groups like Black Lives Matter at School, Rethinking Schools, and Learning for Justice. We draw encouragement from the successes of the movement for police-free schools, led by Black and Brown students in school districts across the country. As stated in this new video from the Leadership Conference Education Fund, “schools are spaces for learning, growth, and development not police.”
Bidders to Meet with Chester Upland
Parents to Discuss Outsourcing Proposals
Parents in Chester Upland School District will have the opportunity on May 6 to ask questions of the three current bidders in a fast-tracked request for proposal (RFP) process that may lead to the outsourcing of several schools.

On April 6, Judge Barry C. Dozer granted in part our emergency motion seeking disclosure of information on these proposals, and bidders posted narrative summaries on the district’s website. They disclosed that Global Leadership Academy is proposing to convert Toby Farms and Stetser to charters, making them both K-8 schools. Chester Community Charter School has proposed to charterize two district schools, Main Street Elementary and Chester Upland School of the Arts. Friendship Education Foundation proposes managing the staggered charter transition of the Chester Upland School of the Arts (K-5) in Year 1 and Toby Farms Intermediate School (6-8) in Year 2. The court’s order requires the RFP Task Force to make the full proposals and its own evaluation process available following its review.

The public meeting is at 5 p.m. on May 6 at Chester High School at 232 W. 9th St. in Chester. and will be available via Zoom (passcode: 7732750) and livestreamed on Facebook. To attend in-person, you must register no later than May 4 at 5 p.m.
Panels Highlight Support for English Learners, Community-School Partnerships 
ELC Independence Foundation Fellow Sophia Tan was a panelist in two sessions of this year’s English Language Development Professional Summit in April, hosted by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the Center for Schools and Communities.

On a panel addressing “Teaching for Equity in a Multilingual World,” Sophia discussed the challenges of teaching English learners with insufficient training, staff, and funding. The panel ended with a call to action for more funding to support educators and ensure that students have equitable access to education. In a session titled “Advancing Equity Through Community-School Partnerships,” Sophia emphasized the importance of educators collaborating with community-based organizations to provide culturally affirming engagement with multilingual students and families. Summit attendees included educators from across the U.S. and five other countries.
Client Advocacy: Ensuring
Language Access, Challenging Pushout
ELC received a referral from a health provider in Southeast PA about concerns that a four-year-old child was being pushed out of preschool for behaviors that indicated a disability. Instead of referring “Eduardo” for early intervention services, the center staff called his parents, who speak Spanish, to pick him up early on multiple days. ELC’s advocacy interrupted this exclusionary practice and supported the parents to receive the interpretation and translation to which they are entitled. We also initiated an evaluation for early intervention services. We continue to monitor the center to ensure that Eduardo and his parents do not experience additional pushout or exclusion because of his behavior and language barriers.

For more on the rights of students and parents who speak languages other than English, see ELC’s factsheets: Immigrant and Refugee Student Bill of Rights; The Rights of English Learners and Limited English Parents (also available in Spanish, Arabic, Simplified Chinese, and Nepali).
Webinar: Dismantling
the School-to-Prison Pipeline 
As part of an effort to better address the needs of people of color with disabilities, FISA Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and The Pittsburgh Foundation are co-sponsoring a series of webinars. ELC is pleased to join with fellow experts to present the June 8 webinar, “Dismantling the School to Prison Pipeline.” More details and registration for this free event are available here.
Letter Calls on Legislature
to Boost Special Ed Funding 
ELC joined with dozens of child advocates from across Pennsylvania to send a letter to the General Assembly in April advocating for a $200 million increase for special education funding in Pennsylvania’s 2021-22 budget. The letter also urged the legislature to close the charter school “special education funding loophole” so that funding for special education in charters is based on the level of services students require. The letter references ELC’s 2020 report “A Decade of Shortchanging Children with Disabilities,” which details the state’s chronic failure to support the rising costs of special education.
Vote May 18 Judges Matter for Equity
May 18 is Primary Day in Pennsylvania. You may not see education issues directly on the ballot, but you will see lots of judicial races. Through their decisions, judges have significant power and authority to affect the lives and rights of children and families. Find out as much as you can about the candidates and make plans to vote. One place to start is the nonpartisan PAVoteSmart website, created by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, which includes links to other information sources.
Welcome Development Director Greg Murphy
Please welcome Gregory Murphy to the ELC team! He comes to ELC with more than 20 years of leadership experience in fund development, including as vice president for institutional advancement at Community College of Philadelphia, chief advancement officer at University of the Arts, and assistant dean for external affairs at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Greg previously worked at TV Guide Magazine for 22 years in editorial, marketing, and sales positions.

Greg is on the board of the Marian Anderson Award (Philadelphia) and the Gloucester County Cultural and Heritage Commission. He was, for many years, a member of the board of directors of Pennsylvania Protection and Advocacy, established to advocate for persons with developmental disabilities and persons with mental illness.

Greg has a B.A. in English literature from Franklin & Marshall College and an M.A. in philanthropy and development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. Greg lives in South Jersey with his partner of 25 years, Michael Boyle.
We're Hiring!
See our website for a full description of two job opportunities in ELC’s Philadelphia office: a staff attorney position and a policy director position.
What We're Reading...
Disabling Inequity: The Urgent Need for Race-Conscious Remedies, by Daniel J. Losen, Paul Martinez, and Grace Hae Rim Shin for The Civil Rights Project.

‘More Than Just Tragic’: Ma’Khia Bryant and the Burden of Black Girlhood by Alisha Haridasani Gupta for the New York Times.

11 Moments from Asian American History That You Should Know by Paulina Cachero and Olivia B. Waxman for Time.
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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.