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Canon City, CO: 17%-18% of students "classified as special needs"

Apr 3, 2023, Colorado Politics: Senate approves adding $40 million to Colorado’s special education funding

A proposal to increase Colorado’s special education funding by $40 million cleared a major hurdle on Monday, receiving unanimous approval from the state Senate.

If passed by the full legislature, Senate Bill 99 would add $40,203,671 to the Department of Education’s annual appropriation. Proponents said the funding would be used for special education programs to help bring down student-teacher ratios, decrease class sizes and provide additional support.

"The $40 million and some change is what will finally, finally close the gap for special education funding in the state of Colorado," said bill sponsor Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada. "This is a pretty historic day."

In 2006, the state legislature created a two-tier special education funding scheme planning to provide an additional $6,000 per student for those in the "tier B" that have multiple disabilities or other qualifying conditions. Despite this, Colorado "has come up short for years" on the funding, Zenzinger said.

Last year, the legislature increased special education funding by around $80 million per year, bringing the annual funding from $220 million to $300 million, and the funding per student from $1,250 to $1,750 for "tier A" students.

"Last year, we made a significant investment into special education services, but it only brought us up to 72% of what we should be paying our school districts in order to help fully educate our special education students," she said. "It has only taken us almost 16 years to get this right."

Complex disabilities among children have recently increased, largely due to children surviving infancy who would not have only decades ago, said Callan Ware with Consortium of Directors of Special Education. This has resulted in the costs of special education rising in recent years. …

In the Cañon City School District, 17% to 18% of students are classified as special needs, higher than both the national and state averages, said Robin Reeser, president of the district’s board of education.

Reeser said the district spends $5.5 million on special education services annually, though the special education funding they receive covers only 47% of the costs to provide services required under state and federal law. The district is forced to take the rest of the money from their general education fund, she said. …

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