Education Law Center’s report, “Still Shortchanging Children with Disabilities: State Underfunding of Special Education Continues,” tells a staggering story of state neglect of special education funding.
Over the past ten years, special education expenditures have increased by $1.7 billion, while state funding has increased by just $110 million. School districts have been forced to raise property taxes, take funding from other areas of their budget, or make cuts in programs and services for students in order to pay for mandated special education costs.
How special education is funded in PA
A bi-partisan group of PA lawmakers recognized that the way Pennsylvania pays for special education services is broken and unfair. In 2014, a commission was convened and members spent months traveling throughout the commonwealth to meet with parents of children with special needs and other stakeholders. The result of their hard work was a new, thoroughly-planned and fair system for funding special education in Pennsylvania that would allocate all new state special education funding based on a three-tired system designed to match the state funding level with the actual cost of meeting the needs of students school districts are educating. Read more about the special education funding formula HERE.
Unfortunately, the very powerful charter school lobby was successful in its efforts to exempt charter schools from receiving state funding based on the new formula. Today charter schools continue to receive their special education allocations based on the state’s flawed system that creates a perverse financial incentive for charters to enroll only students who need low-cost services.
When some schools receive and keep more special education dollars than they are spending on services for children, these schools are reaping a financial advantage at the expense of children with special needs in Pennsylvania.
State special education funding should be distributed to both school districts and charter schools based on the level of services that students need. Allocating taxpayer dollars differently to school districts and charter schools doesn’t make sense. All of our public schools should receive funding distributed by the same allocation formula.
State special education funding should be spent ONLY on providing students with services. Any excess special education funding should be returned to the state and allocated to help other children get the services they need. If some schools receive and keep more special education dollars than they are spending on services for children, these schools are reaping a financial advantage at the expense of children with special needs in Pennsylvania.
To learn more about special education funding and charter schools read our report, “Fixing the Flaws in Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding System for Charter Schools: How an Outdated Law Wastes Public Money, Encourages Gaming of the System, and Limits School Choice.”