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PENNSYLVANIA: State aid can't keep up with ballooning SPED costs

Oct 2, 2019, Pennsylvania Capital Star: Report: Special education costs are ballooning, as state funding lags behind On the same day that Pennsylvania’s Special Education Funding Commission held its first on-the-road hearing in western Pennsylvania, a leading education advocacy group called on the state to increase the amount of funding available to districts for students with disabilities. State aid to school districts has failed to keep pace with rising costs of special education, where expenditures have ballooned by a whopping 58 percent over the past decade, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Education Law Center, a statewide organization with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The stagnant support from the state has forced school districts to shoulder an ever-increasing share of special education costs, the report states…. As an example of that gap, the report’s authors pointed to the Moon Area School District, where the commission held its first public hearing on Tuesday. It held another hearing Wednesday in Erie County. Special education spending in Moon Area, a suburban Pittsburgh school system, grew by $4.9 million between 2008 and 2018, according to the Education Law Center’s analysis of state data. At the same time, the district’s state aid grew by just $118,000. Source: Graphic by Education Law Center. Data from Pennsylvania Department of Education Western Pennsylvania school administrators who testified before the commission on Tuesday said the number of students receiving special education designations is rising — and, along with it, the cost of educating each one of them. They also said that more children have multiple disabilities which require complex and costly interventions. James Wagner, executive director of Armstrong-Indiana Intermediate Unit 28, in Indiana, Pa., said that the trend could be a consequence of the ongoing opioid epidemic, which has led to an increased number of children born to opioid-addicted mothers or into families with people battling addiction. The number of children diagnosed with “emotional disturbances” is one of the fastest-growing areas of special education demand, administrators said. “The number of children needing five, six, seven different services is increasing,” Wagner said. “One of the impacts of the opioid crisis that we’ll deal with for years to come is kids being born with complex needs.”…


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