Feb 3, 2020, ED100: Special Education Costs Flood School Budgets https://ed100.org/blog/special-education-costs-flood-school-budgets Districts Struggle to Stay Afloat The rising costs of special education services are overwhelming your school district budget. And we are talking big bucks. Nearly 800,000 students in California receive special education services — about one in every eight students. According to 2019 estimates by the California Legislative Analyst Office (LAO), the average annual cost of educating a student with disabilities — $27,000 — is almost triple the cost to educate a student without disabilities — about $10,000…. How does this work? Why are school districts — not the state and the federal government — footing most of the costs? Why are costs going up? Here’s what you need to know. Federal Goals Unmatched by Federal Funds Before the 1970s, many schools did not educate children with disabilities. Court cases and changes in public opinion led to change: in 1975 Congress enacted a bipartisan civil rights law later named the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). This federal law, last renewed in 2004, requires that special education services be individually provided for each child with disabilities. …. The law set a target: for each student identified, federal funds would cover up to 40 percent of the additional costs. Federal funding for special education has never come close to this 40 per cent target, which is commonly called “Full Funding.” (A lot of folks are confused by this term. I know I was. It just means meeting the federal 40 per cent target for funding, not funding ALL special education costs.) The Reality: 15% Just how much is the federal government short-changing the states? According to the California Legislative Analyst, “Actual federal funding to California schools has long fallen short of this target. It was $3.2 billion below the target in 2018-19.” The current national level of funding is just under 15 per cent, far below the 40 percent target. State and District Funds Pay for Most Special Education Services… In California, most of the state and federal funding designated for special education is disbursed to school districts and charter schools through a system of Special Education Local Plan Areas (SELPAs). These entities coordinate special education services within a geographic region or a group of school districts. As with overall federal and state funding for special education, money is allocated to SELPAs on the basis of overall attendance in order to avoid creating an incentive to identify lots of students as disabled. This approach has been a subject of debate because some school districts have higher costs and higher numbers of students with disabilities. An important study associated with Getting Down to Facts concluded that this system avoids creating financial incentives to over-identify and inappropriately place students in special education programs. (This is a particular concern for minority students.)… The cost of providing special education services has risen significantly over time. Neither federal nor state funding has kept pace. The math is unavoidably zero-sum. To pay for special education services, school districts and charter schools use unrestricted funds from LCFF, which reduces the amount of money available for other students and programs. The portion of the cost of special education that is locally funded has grown from 49 percent of the cost in 2007-08 to 61 percent in 2017-18. Special Education Costs Are Up. How Much? Why? Autism rates are rising The cost of providing special education services in California has grown significantly over time. In 2017-18 the total cost was about $13 billion. According to the state Legislative Analyst Office this represented an increase of about 28 percent over a decade earlier, adjusted for inflation. The percentage of students receiving special education services jumped from 11 percent to 13 percent. What happened? About two-thirds of the cost increases reflect the growing number of students with severe disabilities, especially autism. According to the Legislative Analyst Report LAO School District Funding 2020, “The share of students identified with autism has increased from 1 in 600 students in 1997-98 to about 1 in 50 students in 2018-19. Many medical experts expect autism rates to continue increasing, thereby placing continued cost pressure on schools.” … School districts and charter schools are legally required to educate all students, including those who need special education services. As the cost of educating students with autism has risen, school districts have picked up most of the cost.
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