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Pennsylvania: 18% of students are SPED; costs rising

May 26, 2022, Philadelphia Inquirer: Special education costs in Pa. are rising, but the state isn’t footing the bill. Children in poorer districts are ‘losing out,’ new report says

The cost of providing special education is rising in school districts across Pennsylvania — but the state isn’t picking up the tab, according to a new report.

From 2008-09 to 2019-20, public school spending on special education grew by $2.2 billion, reaching $5.2 billion, according to the report released Thursday by the Education Law Center and PA Schools Work, a coalition of advocacy groups. But state funding for special education increased by only $156 million during that period.

As with the broader education funding picture in Pennsylvania, that’s left local school districts — and taxpayers — shouldering the vast majority of the costs, which have increased in part due to more Pennsylvania children being identified as needing special education services,

the report said. Of Pennsylvania’s public school population, about 300,000 students, or 18%, are identified as requiring special education, considered any specially designed instruction to meet the needs of children with disabilities…. But children in need of special education aren’t necessarily receiving it, either, according to the report, which said that “parents report a lack of resources to provide appropriate and timely services to students and delays in identifying students and completing or updating IEPs.”…

While plaintiffs are seeking a court order, in the meantime advocates want lawmakers to pass a $1.55 billion increase in the state’s main subsidy for public schools for the coming year, along with a $200 million increase in special education funding, as provided for in Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget proposal. That special education increase would “cover expected cost increases and begin to reverse the decline in state share,” the report released Thursday said. It also pressed lawmakers to restore the state’s share to at least one-third of special education costs within five years. (A decade earlier, the state was paying for 32% of special education costs; by 2019-20, that share had dropped to 22%.)…

Supporters of a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's school funding approach as inadequate rally on the steps of the Capitol Building in Harrisburg in November.


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