Disability Advocates Call for Special Ed Funding Reforms
May 8, 2014 – More than 25 organizations, representing thousands of families throughout Pennsylvania, have joined together in support of the special education funding and accountability reforms contained in HB 2138 and SB 1316.
“These companion pieces of legislation represent a crucial first step toward fixing Pennsylvania’s deeply flawed approach to special education funding and accountability,” said Rhonda Brownstein, executive director of the Education Law Center.
The coalition of groups sent a letter this week to members of the General Assembly urging legislators to support HB 2138 and SB 1316.
The General Assembly’s Special Education Funding Commission, which spent months traveling the state gathering testimony from school officials, researchers, and advocates on special education costs, services and best practices, developed the proposed funding formula in the two bills.
The proposed formula would, for the first time, connect resources to student need — and begin the process for providing students with disabilities the necessary funding to succeed in the classroom and beyond.
A 2009 study revealed a $360 million adequacy gap in state special education funding. Since that time, state funding for special education has been flat-funded — there has been no increase in state support for special education. The lack of state support, coupled with a flawed system, has impacted the quality of services available for all students and has contributed to local property tax increases.
“The current funding structure pits families against an inequitably and underfunded special education system. This is especially true for families whose children have the most complex needs, often told that their child’s education comes at a price to other students in their school — a cruel message to those justifiably seeking, like most parents, to simply secure their child’s future participation in all aspects of community life,” said Sallie Lynagh, Children’s Team Leader for the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania.
Under the legislation’s proposed formula, any new state dollars for special education — including $20 million in the current budget proposal — would be distributed based on a three-tiered system related to the costs of providing special education services to students with disabilities. The three-tiered system would utilize accurate student data and also include additional student and district factors, such as poverty and cost of living.
“This proposed special education funding formula marks an important step towards a common-sense method for distributing resources — a method based on reliable data and one that appropriately accounts for students’ needs,” said Joan Benso, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children.
The current, flawed system relies on inaccurate data, which assumes 16 percent of every school district’s student population receives special education services, and does not account for the different levels of resources required to serve different types of disabilities. The result is a faulty system, where the right amount of funding does not go to the right places.
“Students with disabilities and their families have waited far too long for resolution to special education funding inequities. This legislation has been six years in the making. We call on the Senate and House to listen to the needs of students and pass this legislation without delay,” said Maureen Cronin, executive director the Arc of Pennsylvania.
Education Law Center
215-238-6970 ext. 334