Resources: Special Education

Special Education

Fair School Funding

  • For the past decade, expenditures for educating students with disabilities in Pennsylvania have been climbing steadily, mirroring a national trend. But those rising costs have been almost entirely borne by local school districts.

    By failing to keep pace with these expenditures, Pennsylvania has retreated from its responsibility to educate students with disabilities — despite the fact that the state remains legally responsible under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for ensuring that students with disabilities receive a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.

    Read our report, produced in partnership with the PA Schools Work coalition.

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  • In a statement on the Pennsylvania budget, ELC welcomes the news from the General Assembly that state funding for basic education, special education, and pre-K in the coming school year will not be reduced from current levels, despite the dropoff in state revenues. Schools are already facing substantial decreases in revenue from local sources due to the economic downturn – as well as added costs associated with COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning. The state must promptly find ways to provide additional support to the struggling, underfunded school districts whose students have been hardest hit by this crisis. Read the full statement here.

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  • Dozens of Pennsylvania organizations and advocates joined in a letter to Gov. Wolf in January 2020, urging him to help address the unmet needs of over 270,000 students with disabilities in Pennsylvania by increasing investment in special education and basic education in his FY2020-21 budget.

    The letter calls for an increase of $100 million in special education funding and for restoring the declining state share of special education funding to the level of a decade ago – as well as calling for additional dollars in basic education funding to close the state’s massive adequacy gap . Finally, it calls for revisions to the state’s special education funding formula, both to better reflect district poverty and to extend the current three-tier funding system to charter schools, tying funding levels to student need.

    Read the letter.

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  • Research for Action and the Education Law Center have released a new report that presents simple solutions to making Pennsylvania’s special education funding more equitable and adequate.

    As the state legislature’s reconvened Special Education Funding Commission develops recommendations for how to fairly fund the education of students with disabilities, this analysis suggests that:

    • Pennsylvania align its Special Education Funding (SEF) formula with the formula adopted by the state in 2016 for distributing Basic Education Funding (BEF); and
    • The state should increase the amount of dollars distributed through the updated formula.

    Both the SEF formula (adopted in 2014) and BEF formula (adopted in 2016) apportion state aid similarly, based on both student and district characteristics. But the commission charged with developing the BEF formula determined that newer metrics would more accurately measure each school district’s wealth and tax effort. These newer metrics in the BEF tend to allocate greater resources to districts with higher proportions of historically disadvantaged student groups, including students receiving free or reduced lunch and students of color. The RFA-ELC report recommends that the Special Education Funding Commission incorporate these metrics in any proposed update to the SEF formula. Read the report here.

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  • This October 2018 report from the Education Law Center highlights how the rise in special education costs in districts across the state is outpacing state special education funding, creating new challenges for underfunded school districts.

    Read the Report

    See the district-level special education funding data

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Special Education

Equal Access

  • Special education evaluations and reevaluations are conducted to determine what services and supports a student needs in their IEP. Sometimes, a school’s evaluation or revaluation is incomplete, lacks important information (often called data), uses the wrong tests, misidentifies a child’s disability, recommends something the parent disagrees with, or otherwise lacks needed information to ensure that a proposed IEP will meet a student’s needs. If this happens, parents can request an Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) at the school’s expense one time per each school evaluation or reevaluation. This independent evaluation will assess a child in all areas of suspected disability and will be conducted by an appropriately credentialed certified school psychologist who does not work for the school. Sometimes, schools have a list of providers they use for IEEs. The law allows the school to decline to pay for an IEE and challenge a request for an IEE through a dispute resolution process, but in most cases districts and charter schools agree pay for the testing.

    This tool allows you to request an IEE for your child. Please be as detailed as possible. Return this tool to the principal and special education director at your child’s school.

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  • Parents who disagree with special education decisions may also pursue a dispute resolution process called “mediation.” This is a voluntary process, and both the school and parent must agree to participate. Parents may invite other participants to help with the mediation process. If a parent chooses to bring an attorney with them to mediation, the school may also bring an attorney.  If the parent chooses to participate in mediation without an attorney, the school cannot bring an attorney either.  Mediation can address any special education disagreement, such as whether a school is following a child’s IEP or special education laws, whether a child’s current IEP is appropriate and meets a child’s needs in the least restrictive environment, or whether a child is being discriminated on the basis of their recognized disabilities.  

     

    The Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office for Dispute Resolution (ODR) assigns a trained person called a mediator to lead the discussion, usually within seven to ten days after a request is made. The mediator does not work for the school and is trained to help people resolve special education disagreements. Nothing said in mediation can be used in future special education hearings or court cases, but the mediation agreement itself can be used. If an agreement is reached in the mediation, it is written down and signed by both the school and parent. If the school doesn’t follow through on its end of the agreement, additional action can be taken to enforce the agreement in court or through other special education dispute resolution processes.  

     

    Online Form: You are able to submit a request for mediation directly to ODR using their online form.  

     

    PDF Form: You can also complete a PDF form to make the request. If you use the PDF form, you should attach this Request for Mediation to the Notice of Recommended Education Placement given to you by your child’s school when you return it, in addition to checking the Mediation box on the NOREP. If you were not given a NOREP, send a copy of the complaint letter to the principal and special education director of your child’s school. You must submit the tool to both your child’s school and Pennsylvania’s Office for Dispute Resolution by mail, fax, or email at: 6340 Flank Drive, Suite 600, Harrisburg, PA 17112-2764. ODR’s fax number is 717-657-5983, and the e-mail address is [email protected]. 

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  • Parents who disagree with special education decisions can pursue a dispute resolution process called a Due Process Hearing. This is an official hearing that families can attend on their own, or with an attorney of their choice, to address special education disagreements such as whether a school is following a child’s IEP or special education laws, whether a child’s current IEP is appropriate and meets a child’s needs in the least restrictive environment, or whether a child is being discriminated on the basis of their recognized disabilities.

    NOTE: Other than challenges to an initial evaluation, a request to dispute a proposed change in a child’s IEP or special education placement must be submitted within 10 days or it is deemed waived.

    Online Form: You are able to submit an online request directly to the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Dispute Resolution (ODR) using this form.

    PDF Form: You can also make your request by completing this PDF form (download via button below) from the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Office of Dispute Resolution. If you use the PDF form to request a Due Process Hearing, you should attach this Request for Due Process to the Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP) given to you by your child’s school when you return it in addition to checking the Due Process Hearing Box on your child’s NOREP. If you were not given a NOREP, send a copy of the Complaint Letter to the Principal and Special Education Director your child’s school. You must submit the tool to both your child’s school and Pennsylvania’s Office for Dispute Resolution by mail, fax, or email at: 6340 Flank Drive, Suite 600, Harrisburg, PA 17112-2764. ODR’s fax number is 717-657-5983, and the e-mail address [email protected].

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  • Enrolling a child who is not experiencing homelessness or is in foster care: If a child is living with you and you are not with their parent, they have the right to attend school where you live if certain conditions are met. Use this form to determine whether the child living with you is eligible to enroll in the school catchment in which you reside. This form is an affidavit (sworn statement), which means that you are certifying that all information you put on the form is correct. NOTE: You can face legal penalties if you knowingly complete this form using false information to enroll a child into school.

    Enrolling a child who is experiencing homelessness or in foster care: If the child is experiencing homelessness or is in foster care, they are eligible for immediate enrollment without submitting any ordinarily required documents or proving residency. If the school is improperly refusing to enroll a child living with you, you can file an enrollment complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Education here. Learn about enrolling a child into school here, the rights of students experiencing homelessness here, and the rights of students in foster care here.

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  • Parents, guardians, Educational Decision Makers (EDMs), and surrogate parents are important members of a student’s IEP team, who must be invited and included in the student’s IEP meeting, which must be held at least once a year. If a student is not making progress, needs more supports, different supports, or something isn’t working well at school, you can request an IEP meeting to discuss your concerns and make suggestions for changes to your child’s IEP. The law does not limit how many IEP meetings a parent can request. You can also make the request that other supportive people who know and support your child attend the IEP meeting, such as doctors, relatives, or outside service providers.

    This tool allows you to request an IEP meeting, identify changes you would like to see, bring issues of attendance, bullying and harassment, or other matters to the school’s attention, and request that supportive people be included in your child’s IEP meeting. Please be as detailed as possible when completing this tool. Return this tool to the principal and special education director at your child’s school.

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  • A child is entitled to a re-evaluation every three years or every two years if a child has intellectual disabilities (ID). However, you may also request a re-evaluation at any time.

    This tool allows parents, guardians, Educational Decision Makers (EDMs), and surrogate parents to request that their child be reevaluated in all areas of suspected disability by their school to determine if they have new or increased needs that need to be addressed through their current Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is a legally binding document that provides individualized special education services that children with certain disabilities are legally entitled to under law. Please be as specific as possible when completing this tool and list any education concerns you may be having about your child in as much detail as possible. Here is a guide that you can use to complete the tool or help a parent or caregiver to complete the tool.  Once you make this request in writing, the school has a reasonable time, generally 10 days, to agree to re-evaluate your child and issue a Permission to Re-Evaluate Form (PRTE) or decline to evaluate by issuing you a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP). A school must take one of these two actions under law.

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  • This tool allows parents, guardians, Educational Decision Makers (EDMs), and surrogate parents to request that their child be evaluated by their school in all areas of suspected disability to determine their eligibility for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP is a legally binding document that provides individualized special education services to children with certain disabilities who need specially designed instruction or supports in order to learn. Please be as specific as possible when completing this tool and list any education concerns you may be having about your child in as much detail as possible. Here is a guide that you can use to complete the tool or help a parent or caregiver to complete the tool. Once you make this request in writing, the school has a reasonable amount of time – generally considered to be 10 days – to agree to evaluate your child and issue a Permission to Evaluate Form (PTE) or decline to evaluate by issuing you a Notice of Recommended Educational Placement (NOREP). A school must take one of these two actions under law. Once the school agrees and you consent to the evaluation, it must be completed in 60 days.

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  • This tool allows parents, guardians, Educational Decision Makers (EDMs), and surrogate parents to request that their child be evaluated to determine their eligibility for a §504 Accommodations Plan. Students are entitled to a §504 Plan if they have any qualifying disability, including, for example, anxiety, depression, or ADHD. A §504 Plan is a legal document that ensures students with certain disabilities receive the accommodations, supports, and services they need to access school. Please be as specific as possible when completing this tool and list any education concerns you may be having about your child in as much detail as possible.  Here is a guide that you can use to complete the tool or help a parent or caregiver to complete the tool.

    Download PDF

  • In a statement on the Pennsylvania budget, ELC welcomes the news from the General Assembly that state funding for basic education, special education, and pre-K in the coming school year will not be reduced from current levels, despite the dropoff in state revenues. Schools are already facing substantial decreases in revenue from local sources due to the economic downturn – as well as added costs associated with COVID-19 and the shift to remote learning. The state must promptly find ways to provide additional support to the struggling, underfunded school districts whose students have been hardest hit by this crisis. Read the full statement here.

    Download PDF

  • COVID-19 school closures have had an impact on students with disabilities. ELC compiled this resource of 5 important things for students with disabilities and their families to know.

    5 Things Students with Disabilities Should Know

     

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  • At the October 2018 action meeting of the Philadelphia School Board, ELC offered testimony supporting a proposal that would increase transitional training and support services for students with disabilities.  Federal and state law require transition planning for every child beginning at age 14, including requiring school districts to provide every child with a disability with comprehensive services that will help them transition from school to post-school-life.  (more…)

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  • Learn about Section 504 plans. Read here.

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  • Published in February 2017, this analysis explains how Pennsylvania’s charter schools serve disproportionately fewer of the state’s vulnerable students than traditional public schools, too often segregating students by type of disability. Federal and state laws are clear that charter schools must provide quality public options for all pupils. With respect to students eligible for special education under Pennsylvania law and the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the data demonstrates that, even where charter schools are serving proportionate numbers of students with disabilities in line with their share of the overall student population, the charter sector by and large does not educate students with disabilities who require higher cost aids and services—e.g. students with intellectual disabilities, serious emotional disturbance, and multiple disabilities. Instead, the charter sector serves students with disabilities who require lower cost aids and services, such as speech and language impairment and specific learning disabilities.

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  • This toolkit, released in October 2016, is designed to help Pennsylvania youth with disabilities who are in the foster care or juvenile justice system to prepare for Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. Although this toolkit is aimed at youth in foster care or the juvenile justice system, who often lack engaged adults to advocate for them at IEP meetings, it can be used by any teenager receiving special education. The toolkit was collaboratively produced by Education Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and Disability Rights Pennsylvania.

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  • Senior Staff Attorney Maura McInerney presented this slideshow in February, 2016. The document reviews the Every Students Succeeds Act and considers the potential benefits and drawbacks for vulnerable students in Pennsylvania.

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  • This guide provides clearly explained legal rules for special education and early intervention programs in Pennsylvania for children from ages three to 21. 

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Special Education

School to Prison Pipeline