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COLORADO: $220M for SPED; "Is it enough?"

Oct 21, 2021, Colorado Newsline: Colorado special education sees funding increase this year, but is it enough?

The Legislature this year funded only about half the amount envisioned in state law for students with the most serious needs Colorado will have some extra money this year to spend on early intervention and special education for young people with disabilities. The $10 million influx comes as a result of a last-minute amendment to the state budget. Some state legislators and educators fear, however, that even with the increased investment, the state doesn’t come close to meeting students’ needs. “The idea is that we’re supposed to close gaps for our students and catch them up,” said Rob Gould, president of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and a special education teacher in Denver Public Schools. “But when our teachers are always taking on additional responsibilities, additional caseloads and more challenges, then the reality of trying to close those gaps — it just goes further and further away.” According to a Monday memo, which nonpartisan staff prepared for state lawmakers on the Legislative Interim Committee on School Finance, Colorado’s budget for the current fiscal year includes approximately $220 million for students with disabilities. That’s on top of the state’s $198 million in federal grant funds for special education and early intervention, which includes money that Congress wove into coronavirus relief legislation passed in March. But local school districts take on the majority of the funding burden. When faced with budget shortfalls, they have to figure out ways to pay for special education, like increasing the number of students with disabilities assigned to a single teacher…. Shortfall for kids with specialized needs The largest tier of the state’s special education funding model, Tier A, includes $1,250 for each child with a disability who was counted during the prior school year. That per-pupil amount has not changed since 2006. Last year, Tier A special education funding totaled $136 million. Tier B funding targets students who have certain disabilities that require more specialized care, such as serious emotional disabilities, blindness or deafness. State law allows for up to $6,000 per Tier B student, but the actual amount the state spends depends on how much lawmakers choose to allocate toward special education in a given year. Lawmakers spent $63.3 million last year on students with disabilities that require more specialized care, amounting to $2,629 per Tier B student in the 2020-2021 budget. The actual costs to provide care for a given student can vary quite a bit within those tiers…. Earlier this year, lawmakers agreed to an amendment to the 2021-2022 budget that directed an additional $10 million for Tier B special education students, increasing the funding to around $3,390 per student, according to the Consortium of Directors of Special Education. The amendment was originally proposed by Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, an Arvada Democrat, and Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert, a Republican from Douglas County. That means this year, the Legislature funded 56.5% of the $6,000 cost per Tier B student, up from 43% the previous year. The rest of the burden falls on local districts, who are required under federal law to accommodate students with special needs. Even if Tier B students were funded at 100%, or $6,000 per student, that probably wouldn’t be enough…. Throughout his 24 years in special education, Gould said caseloads have increased from 15 to as many as 29 students assigned to a single teacher….


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