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CG v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Education

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

November 5, 2013

CG; SB, parents of minor children enrolled in the Lancaster School District; WM; LS; DR; LC; AOP; RJ, parents of minor children enrolled in the Reading School District on behalf of their children, LP, SLB, BB, EE, DER, KC, AO, MJ and GJ, on behalf of all other similarly situated children in Pennsylvania
v.
THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION; GERALD ZAHORCHAK, its Secretary CG; SB; LS; DR; LC, Appellants

Argued: September 10, 2013

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 1-06-cv-01523) District Judge: Honorable Yvette Kane

Kevin L. Quisenberry, Esq. [ARGUED] Evalynn Welling, Esq. Counsel for Appellants

Sean A. Kirkpatrick, Esq. [ARGUED] Harrisburg, PA 17120-0000 Counsel for Appellees

Sonja D. Kerr, Esq. Counsel for Amici

Before: SMITH, SHWARTZ, and ROTH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

SHWARTZ, Circuit Judge.

I.

Plaintiffs are members of a class of disabled students who attend schools in certain districts in Pennsylvania and who claim that Pennsylvania's method for distributing special education funds violates various laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ["IDEA"], Americans with Disabilities Act ["ADA"], and the Rehabilitation Act ["RA"]. After a bench trial, the District Court found that the funding formula did not deprive the class of a free appropriate public education ["FAPE"] as required by the IDEA and did not discriminate against them in violation of either the ADA or RA. Plaintiffs do not challenge the District Court's finding that the funding formula does not violate the IDEA but do challenge its conclusions about their ADA and RA claims.[1] Although compliance with the IDEA through the provision of a FAPE does not immunize a program or practice from being challenged under the ADA or RA, we agree with the District Court that Plaintiffs did not produce evidence showing that Pennsylvania's funding program violates the ADA or RA and will thus affirm.

II.

Under the IDEA, states that provide special education funds are eligible for federal funds to implement state-wide special education programs that guarantee a FAPE to eligible disabled children. 20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A). To this end, Pennsylvania enacted 24 P.S. § 25-2509.5, which sets forth its special education funding formula. Under the formula, each school district receives, among other things, a base supplement, which is calculated by taking the total amount of base supplement money available and apportioning it among all districts based on the average daily membership of the district from the prior year under the assumption that 16% of students in each district are disabled.

The class relevant to this appeal encompasses "all identified special-needs students attending schools with a 17% or greater enrollment of special needs students and with a [market value/personal income ratio] of .65 or greater" (hereinafter the "class districts").[2] After trial, the District

Court found that the majority of children in Pennsylvania attend schools in districts where the disabled students constitute 15% or less of the district's student population (hereinafter the "nonclass districts"). Plaintiffs' expert, Dr. Bruce Baker, provided evidence that the average special education subsidy per special education student in the class totaled $3327 and the average special education subsidy per special education student who attended schools in nonclass districts totaled $4108. Thus, students in the class, namely those who attend schools in districts where the disabled student population exceeds 17%, receive less funding per student than nonclass students.

Aside from evidence showing differences in funding per student, Dr. Baker provided evidence that: (1) students in class districts who received individualized educational plans[3]["IEP"] under the IDEA scored lower on Pennsylvania's standardized reading and math tests than IEP students in nonclass districts;[4] and (2) the graduation rates for IEP students in class districts was lower than the rate for IEP students in nonclass districts.[5] Dr. Baker did not, however: (1) provide evidence about or evaluate the relationship between the receipt of a FAPE and funding levels; (2) consider the other funding sources that districts received or how districts allocated resources; (3) evaluate the appropriateness or implementation of the IEPs for students in either class or nonclass ...


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