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Cg, et al v. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education and

January 28, 2011

CG, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS
v.
THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND GERALD ZAHORCHAK, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs, two classes represented by parents of students in Lancaster and Reading School Districts, bring this action on behalf of their minor children to challenge the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's method for distributing special education funds. They contend that 24 P.S. § 25-2509.5, the Pennsylvania statute which apportions special education funding, violates federal law, specifically: the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.; Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794; the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1; the Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 ("EEOA"), 20 U.S.C. § 1701 et seq.; and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. Defendants are the Pennsylvania Department of Education and Gerald Zahorchak, the Secretary of the Department. Now before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 109, 110.) For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Plaintiffs' motion and grant Defendants' motion in part and deny Defendants' motion in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") conditions a state's receipt of federal funds for special education on the implementation of statewide special education programs guaranteeing a free appropriate public education ("FAPE") to eligible disabled children. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). Consistent with the IDEA, Pennsylvania appropriates funding to local school districts on an annual basis specifically for special education. Plaintiffs allege that this funding formula, 24 P.S. § 25-2509.5, violates federal law because it requires the Pennsylvania Department of Education to allocate special education funds to a school district based on average daily membership of special education students across the Commonwealth rather than on the actual number of special education students enrolled in the district.

A. Funding Formula

The Commonwealth currently employs what is commonly known as a "census based" funding model to supplement local special education budgets. That is, funds are allocated, in part, based on the average number of special education students enrolled in all districts in Pennsylvania, rather than on a headcount of special education students actually enrolled in a particular district or per special education resource. The Pennsylvania funding formula consists of four parts: (1) the base amount and base supplement; (2) an inflation index supplement; (3) a minimum percentage funding increase, and (4) a special education contingency fund. 24 P.S. § 25-2509.5.

Of the four parts of the funding model, Plaintiffs primarily object to the first, which accounts for the vast majority of the Commonwealth's annual allocation of special education funding to local school districts. (Doc. No. 4 ¶ 16.) The base amount is equal to the total amount of state funding the school district received in the previous year. The base supplement is calculated as follows: (1) multiply the district's market value/personal income ratio ("MVPI ratio")*fn1 by sixteen percent -- where sixteen percent is equal to the average enrollment of special education students across the Commonwealth -- of the prior school year's average daily membership of the school district; (2) multiply the resulting product by the Commonwealth's total available supplemental funding; and (3) divide that product by the sum of the products of the MVPI ratio multiplied by sixteen percent of the average daily membership of all school districts for the prior school year.*fn2 See generally 24 P.S. § 25-2509.5. This supplemental amount makes up only about 2.6 percent of the Commonwealth's total special education budget and is limited to approximately 2 to 4 percent of each district's budget; the vast majority of special education funding is determined by the base amount. (Doc. No. 148 ¶¶ 10-12.) However, because the base supplement allocates funding based on the average enrollment of special needs students across the Commonwealth and the base amount is derived, in large part, from each prior years' base supplements, the average enrollment of special needs students is factored in to the annual base amount.

B. Procedural History

In their amended complaint, Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment and an injunction requiring the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education to abandon the current funding formula and to distribute special education funds based upon the actual number of disabled students in each district and the actual cost of their special education needs. (Doc. No. 4 at 30-31.) Plaintiffs further seek an injunction requiring the Commonwealth to provide funds for the Reading and Lancaster School Districts to hire bilingual staff to assist with Limited English Proficiency ("LEP") special education students. (Id.) The Court has certified two classes as the most efficient and just method of attaining the desired relief. (Doc. No. 133.) The First Class consists of special needs students attending Pennsylvania School Districts which have a 17 percent or higher enrolled population of special needs students and an MVPI ratio of .65 or greater. (Id.) The Second Class consists of LEP special needs students at Pennsylvania School Districts with a 17 percent or higher enrolled population of special needs students and MVPI ratio of .65 or greater and which also have a 10 percent or greater population of LEP students. Defendants previously moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, which this Court denied. (Doc. No. 31.) The parties subsequently filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 109, 110.) Defendants seek summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. No. 110.) Plaintiffs seek summary judgment on their Substantive Due Process and EEOA claims. (Doc. No. 109.) Plaintiffs also previously sought summary judgment on their Rehabilitation Act claim, but withdrew the motion as to that claim. (Doc. Nos. 139, 143.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment is warranted "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is material if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law, and it is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis that would allow a reasonable fact finder to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986). At summary judgment, the inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Id. at 251-52. In making this determination, the Court must "consider all evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." A.W. v. Jersey City Pub. Schs., 486 F.3d 791, 794 (3d Cir. 2007).

The moving party has the initial burden of identifying evidence that it believes shows an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Conoshenti v. Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 145-46 (3d Cir. 2004). Once the moving party has shown that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's claims, "the non-moving party must rebut the motion with facts in the record and cannot rest solely on assertions made in the pleadings, legal memoranda, or oral argument." Berckeley Inv. Group. Ltd. v. Colkitt, 455 F.3d 195, 201 (3d Cir. 2006); accord Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). If the non-moving party "fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden at trial," summary judgment is warranted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

With respect to the sufficiency of the evidence that the non-moving party must provide, a court should grant summary judgment where the non-movant's evidence is merely colorable, conclusory, or speculative. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50. There must be more than a scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party and more than some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. Id. at 252; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants request summary judgment on each of Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. No. 110.) Plaintiffs' request summary judgment on their claims arising from the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the EEOA. (Doc. No. 109.) The Court will first consider Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to two issues that Plaintiffs failed to address in their brief in opposition: (1) Plaintiffs' Rehabilitation Act and ADA claims against Defendant Zahorchak; and (2) Plaintiffs' Substantive Due Process claim against the Department of Education. The Court will then ...


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