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IDAHO: $66M SPED debt ; 'We're sorry, we can't afford to provide your child'

Idaho public schools are behind $66 million in annual funding for special education; districts are forced to come up with the money themselves.

Idaho's special education funding formula is in line for a potential overhaul, according to Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction's Office.

The current formula distributes state dollars to public school districts to account for 6% of elementary school students to qualify for special education curriculum; the flat percentage drops to 5.5% for middle school and high school students.

However, 12% of Idaho students - statewide - qualify for special education classes, according to Chief Deputy Superintendent Ryan Cantrell.

"I've never, in all my years in a school, seen a situation where a school told a student or a family, we're sorry, we can't afford to provide your child what they need. I've never seen that happen," Cantrell said. "What happens is they provide for the child. They meet the needs. But the question comes up in a finite system - where you only have 'X' amount of money - if we choose to meet the needs for this student, what are we not going to do over here as a result of that?"

Districts have relied on a supplemental levy to fill their fair share of the funding gap or divert money from other resources. The superintendent's office is looking at other funding formula options, including funding the program based on documented need as oppose to a flat percentage rate.

"What could that look like? And what is a good first step that we can take towards taking some of that burden away from the local districts? We're asking the question; how can the state help fill some of those needs in the next budget?" Cantrell said.

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