November 2019
Calling for Changes in How Special Education is Funded
In our just-released report co-authored with Research for Action, we argue that Pennsylvania’s formula for distributing its special education dollars is flawed and could be improved by having it more closely mirror the state’s formula for distributing basic education dollars. The current special education formula inaccurately measures district wealth, and disadvantages districts with high rates of poverty and districts with higher percentages of students of color.

Our report also reiterates the concern raised in another recent ELC report — that state aid continues to lag far behind the pace of growth in local special education costs, creating intense financial challenges for districts and schools and thereby denying many students with disabilities their right to a free appropriate public education.

The Pennsylvania legislature’s Special Education Funding Commission, which was reconvened expressly to review the special education formula adopted five years ago, has received our report. They heard testimony on these issues from Reynelle Brown Staley, ELC policy director, and also heard from school officials, teachers, parents, and special education advocates at four hearings around the state. The commission is charged with issuing recommendations about the funding formula by Nov. 30. The convening of the commission is a rare opportunity for the issue of high-quality special education to garner focused attention from legislators.
ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley testifying to the Special Education Funding Commission.
Challenging a Charter School's Discriminatory Enrollment Practices
In October, ELC filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas to challenge a blatantly discriminatory denial of enrollment at Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia (MCSCS) for a six-year-old child diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. After the first grader was accepted into MCSCS, the school's founder and leader told her mother that she could not enroll in the school because she received services through an IEP to address her ADHD. This discriminatory denial of enrollment based on the child's disability was extremely troubling, compounded by the fact that MCSCS enrolls a far smaller percentage of children with disabilities than other charter and district schools.
After weeks of attempting to negotiate, ELC sought a preliminary injunction to obtain the child's rightful access to MCSCS. The court filing — coupled with coverage of our complaint in the Inquirer , the Notebook , and WHYY — led to a swift reversal of the charter school's enrollment denial for this young girl. ELC continues to work to ensure that the charter school addresses the systemic access issues that fueled the inequity and discrimination, as well as to advance equity in the charter sector, particularly for students who are historically underrepresented.
School Choice and Inequity: A Chance to Weigh In
A hot topic in debates about education reform is how “school choice” fits in with efforts to provide educational opportunity for underserved students. This commentary by ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr was the cover story of an Oct. 20 feature on school choice in the Philadelphia Inquirer . She cited ELC’s research on Philadelphia’s growing charter school sector, showing that the city’s traditional charters serve more advantaged students than district-run schools — with fewer low-income students, fewer English learners, and fewer students with complex disabilities. Sometimes discrimination is blatant (see above story), but often it is more subtle.

The op-ed points to an opportunity to demand stronger rules ensuring fairness in how parental choice operates: The Pennsylvania Department of Education has launched a rule-making process for charters that could be a vehicle for new equity guidelines around areas like charters’ application requirements and admissions policies. The department is requesting information and comments from the public to support its rule-making. Read more about their request and how you can respond.
Groups Rally Against Hardening of Schools
ELC Attorney Cheryl Kleiman at the Oct. 28 rally.
ELC joined with One PA, ACLU, parents, students, and advocates in calling on Pittsburgh Public Schools to limit the role of police in schools and to increase access to supports and services for students. Speaking at an Oct. 28 rally on the proposed memorandum of understanding between Pittsburgh Public Schools and city police, ELC attorney Cheryl Kleiman highlighted the significant reforms the community has already accomplished — including banning suspensions in pre-K through 2nd grade and stopping school police from carrying guns. ELC endorsed the call to expand the Pittsburgh suspension ban through 5th grade.

In our continuing efforts to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline — from supporting education organizing to training Allegheny County juvenile probation officers — ELC is committed to creating schools where all students have the resources they need to succeed and can learn free from criminalization and pushout.
PA Legislators Push to Escalate Arming of School Personnel; Call your Legislator!
Pennsylvania’s General Assembly is once again considering dangerous legislation authorizing guns in schools. House Bill 49 was recently approved by the Senate and sent back to the House for approval of a key amendment that ELC opposes. The amended bill allows school security guards to be armed in schools for the entirety of the 2019-20 school year even if they haven’t completed the mandated National School Resource Officer training to prepare them for working directly with children. This dangerous provision has been buried in a bill about financial literacy that has strong bipartisan support. Contact your state representative and Gov. Wolf to let them know you oppose these tactics and that armed, untrained security personnel have no place in our schools.
Panelists to Advise U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on School-to-Prison Pipeline
“Dismantling the School-to-Prison Pipeline” will be the topic of public briefings on Nov. 19 and 21, when the Pennsylvania Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights hosts a set of expert panel discussions examining the ways in which disparate discipline affects students of color, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ students.

ELC executive director Deborah Gordon Klehr is a member of the state advisory committee that will hear the panelists’ testimony and report back with recommendations to the U.S. commission. ELC policy director Reynelle Brown Staley will be a panelist. A noon briefing on Nov. 19 will take place via conference call, and an all-day briefing on Nov. 21 will be held in Center City Philadelphia and via conference call. Learn more about how to participate or submit testimony here .
ELC Partners with GirlGov to Support Youth Advocacy
ELC is thrilled to announce a new partnership with the Women & Girls Foundation’s GirlGov program. GirlGov is a yearlong program where girls from all over southwest Pennsylvania learn about civics, government, youth organizing, and policymaking to develop and lead their own advocacy campaigns. ELC attorney Cheryl Kleiman will serve as the community partner and subject matter expert for this year’s Education Justice Committee. We are joining with organizations like the Alliance for Police Accountability and Women’s Law Project to support girls in their advocacy efforts to advance education justice!
Our New Philly Address
After 20 years in our old location, ELC’s Philly office moved in October! You can still reach ELC staff at their previous phone numbers, and mail should be addressed to:

Education Law Center
1800 JFK Boulevard,
Suite 1900A
Philadelphia, PA 19103

You can still find our Pittsburgh office at 429 Fourth Avenue, Suite 702, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.
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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.