This year, we pause to celebrate some of the most important social justice advances in American history such as the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Mississippi Freedom Summer. As we celebrate these historic achievements, we must renew the intensity of our focus on the civil rights we have not yet achieved: a quality public education for all children, the unencumbered right to vote, and the freedom from want we all need to lead our lives. In 2013, we made powerful strides toward remedying these modern injustices by laying the groundwork for litigation against the state’s inequitable funding system, defeating Pennsylvania’s voter identification law, and toppling barriers that kept people from accessing education, vacant land and local food, and employment.
The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia uses high-impact legal strategies to improve the well-being and life prospects of our region’s most vulnerable populations by assuring that they have access to the resources and services that all of us need to lead our lives. We focus on securing access to six such resources — all deeply intertwined — that are essential to escaping a cycle of poverty and realizing the promise of equality:
Securing a high-quality
826: Number of administrative complaints we helped parents from 92 schools file with the state documenting the horrifying shortage of nurses, guidance counselors and education services in Philadelphia.
Snapshot of Underfunding
A seven-year-old student at C.W. Henry School has asthma and uses an inhaler after he receives routine evaluations from a medical professional. Since he is only seven, he cannot yet evaluate himself and determine how often he should be using his inhaler. Because of severe funding shortages, no nurse is regularly available at his school to evaluate him and as his mother points out, “asthma attacks cannot be scheduled to occur when a nurse is on site”.
1,600: Number of students with autism we supported when we partnered with Dechert LLP to halt the School District of Philadelphia’s policy of shuffling students with autism between schools because of their disability and without parental consent and input.
39,000: Hours of compensatory education we secured for children with disabilities in the Chester Upland School District after we intervened in litigation to keep the district open.
300+: Pro bono attorneys, parents, advocates we trained
12: Students we represented in individual cases.
For years RJ, a 10-year-old boy whose learning is impacted by cerebral palsy and has difficulty communicating, was segregated from his peers in a special education classroom and provided no opportunities to build his social skills. He was literally sitting in an isolated classroom, not learning anything, when he and his parents came to the Law Center seeking help. Law Center attorneys, together with pro bono counsel from Dechert LLP, represented RJ and his parents through the due process hearing and an appeal, and successfully settled the case to provide RJ an appropriate educational placement that finally gives him a chance to learn.
Statewide Systemic Litigation
The Law Center is now moving beyond the complaints process to address the lack of equitable funding at a systemic level by partnering with the Education Law Center and a private national firm to file a law suit seeking relief for the state’s failure to uphold its constitutional mandate to provide a “thorough and efficient system of public education.”
Ensuring access to healthy and
safe environments and an equitable
voice in neighborhood planning.
11,000: Unique visitors to GroundedInPhilly.org, the online organizing and data platform we built to help democratize data on vacant land and provide resources to neighbors looking to start garden and farming programs on that land.
150+: People who attended our June 2013 launch of the Healthy Foods Green Spaces coalition
1: New Land Bank Law we helped secure
Supporting Gardens through Direct Representation
In 2012 we learned the Pulaski Zeralda Garden in northwest Philadelphia was actively being offered for sale by the city. The gardeners who had been stewarding the land for years had no idea until we alerted them. In 2013 the Law Center’s Garden Justice Legal Initiative connected the gardeners to the Neighborhood Gardens Trust, which has agreed to preserve the garden for years to come.
“Our garden is more than 25 years old and the only spot of green on our block of row houses. When we learned that it was up for possible sale, we were anxious and did not know what to do. Amy Laura Cahn and the Garden Justice Legal Initiative helped us unravel the maze of city threads and talked us through options which will lead toward keeping this valuable neighborhood resource vital and strong for decades to come. All of us who live in older, industrialized sections of the city know that gardens, living plants, and fresh, organic produce shared with our neighborhood pantries are invaluable neighborhood assets. Thank you for doing the work to keep such miracles alive.” — Dee Dee Risher and the gardeners of the Pulaski-Zeralda garden
Enhancing the integrity of
elections and protecting each
citizen’s right to vote
511,000: Voters who would have been disenfranchised by Pennsylvania’s voter ID law
“My gratitude to you for fighting for me and all the others hurt by the photo ID law. You people are keeping our democracy alive.” – Tia Sutter, trial witness, after the Court struck down the photo ID law.
In early 2014, the court held the law unconstitutional, citing the state’s inability to implement the law as written, and protecting the rights of voters across the state.
Pro Bono Spotlight: Why I Support the Law Center
Michael Rubin, Arnold & Porter LLP
“It was a pleasure standing with the Law Center to defend the most fundamental and foundational of rights: the right to vote. Together, we formed a seamless trial team with our co-counsel at other organizations to develop an overwhelming factual and legal record establishing that the Pennsylvania Photo ID Law is unconstitutional. Our clients and truly all Pennsylvania citizens are better off because of the work of the Law Center. Personally and professionally, my work with the Law Center team has been a career highlight. I encourage both veteran and up-and-coming attorneys to partner with the Law Center in the defense of the rights of our citizenry.”
Eliminating systemic barriers
that keep low-income individuals
from accessing medical care.
Addressing the pernicious use
of background checks to disqualify
people from employment.
1: Stephanie Settles, our first client in the Fair Employment Opportunities Project.
$30,000: Multi-year grant received from the Patricia Kind Family Foundation to start the Fair Employment Opportunities Project
20: Percent of the population of Philadelphia that has a criminal history.
Helping people live in
integrated community settings
with the services they need.
All this work would not be possible without our donors and volunteers. In 2013, more than 80 volunteers dedicated in excess of 4,800 hours of service to the Law Center’s mission.
We expanded our network by electing eight new directors to our governing board in 2013.
> The NAACP State Conference presented the Law Center with the Award of Excellence in recognition of our work representing the NAACP in cases involving voting rights, excessive truancy fees and the threatened closure of an entire school system for lack of funding.
> Amy Laura Cahn, director of the Garden Justice Legal Initiative, was appointed to the Mayor’s Food Policy Advisory Council. Amy Laura was also selected as a fellow for the 2013 Human Rights Institute in New York City.
In 2013 Law Center staff took part in more than 35 speaking engagements, community events and trainings that reached more than 2,500 people.
The Law Center was acknowledged or featured in the press more than 90 times!
This year’s Symposium on Equality brought together 120 thought-leaders and community activists to discuss “Privatization – Looking Out for the Public Good” in health care, land use and education.
Social Justice Gala
Each year the Law Center presents the Thaddeus Sevens Award to individuals or organizations whose actions best illustrate the Law Center’s mission. This year we honored Thomas B. Schmidt, III of Pepper Hamilton LLP for his work to reverse unlawful and excessive truancy fines for parents in Lebanon, PA. We also honored lawyers at DLA Piper US LLP for their committed and creative representation of students in the Lower Merion School District who alleged they were misidentified and misplaced in special education because of their race.
Unaudited: Audited financial reports will be available on our website after June 30, 2014. Not included are recognized contributions in professional services.