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Education Law Center ensures access to quality public education

The Eagles continue to support nonprofits that work to reduce barriers to opportunity and end racism. In support of Black History Month, the Eagles are proud to recognize the work of one of these nonprofits each day.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's proposed budget calls for an additional $1.55 billion for education. While this was announced on Groundhog Day last week, the Education Law Center noted this news was a departure from the past.

"It's an exciting, courageous proposal to add $1.55 billion in new dollars to public schools, driven out through the basic education and special education formulas," said Education Law Center Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr. "We are excited to finally see a bold budget aimed at addressing some of the longstanding inequities for which we've long advocated!"

School districts are funded by local, state, and federal dollars. However, Pennsylvania ranks 44th in the nation in its percentage share of education money, putting a significant burden on each school district. This is an enormous problem because wealthier towns with higher property values can generate more tax dollars and provide better resources. Some towns try to offset the difference with a higher tax rate, but it's not enough with the lower property values.

According to PASchoolsWork.org, 75 percent of school districts are expected to raise property taxes, while over a third are reducing or furloughing staff, leading to increased class sizes. And 30 percent are cutting back programs and services – which basically means families are paying more for less.

"We're getting it wrong in many ways in the state," Klehr said.

Wolf's budget is an important step in the right direction. Education Law Center is looking to take another one. Later this year, the nonprofit will be part of a landmark fair school-funding trial that is taking the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to task for failing to finance public education properly under the state constitution.

"This is a historic opportunity to make a difference, a real difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren today and in the future," Klehr says.

A Philadelphia-area native and former teacher, Klehr witnessed firsthand the devasting effects of the racist policies that plague the education system from access to the disparity in discipline.

"I feel so deeply that we are not as a community supporting our most underserved students and we have a responsibility to do so," Klehr says. "I feel extremely lucky for the privileges that I've had and feel that it's my responsibility to help address this deeply inequitable system."

The COVID-19 pandemic once again highlighted the gap in opportunities. Not every school district could seamlessly pivot to a virtual education model due to infrastructure or the students' access to computers and the internet. The Education Law Center filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Board of Education to ensure that students with disabilities could receive evaluations during the pandemic.

"The difference that we're able to make for individual families in a smaller systemic way, but a big deal for each individual family, provides a lot for us to feel like we're making a difference," Klehr says.

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