By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A local civil rights group is considering whether to file a federal lawsuit to force the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to release enough funding to ensure that Philadelphia’s cash-strapped public schools open this year.

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The nonprofit group says it has precedent that shows it could work.

When the Chester Upland School District announced in January 2012 that it didn’t have enough money to stay open for the rest of the year (see related story), the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia and the state branch of the NAACP filed a federal class-action lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s Department of Education.

The suit claimed that closing schools would mean special-education students would be unable to get the services required under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

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“As a result of that lawsuit in Chester, the state came up with more money and the schools were kept open,” says Jennifer Clarke, executive director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia.

According to the settlement agreement, the state paid roughly $29 million to keep the schools open. Clark says they could file a similar lawsuit if Philadelphia public schools are unable to open.

“We would ask for an order forcing the state to comply with the federal law requiring special education,” she tells KYW Newsradio.  “It would require the state to come up with additional money to be paid to provide those services.”

Clark says the lawsuit could provide additional pressure on lawmakers to come up with a solution.   She says if filed, given the urgency of the closings, a court could hear and decide the case on an expedited basis.

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