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Pennsylvania: 'Unsustainable' growth in SPED costs due to "increase in number of students served"

Oct 14, 2018, Swarthmore, PA, Delaware County Times: Rising special education costs taxing school districts … The local share of money designated to special education in school districts has continued to rise while state funding has decreased, creating “increasingly inequitable” learning environments across the Commonwealth, according to the Education Law Center. A report released on Oct. 9 by the Philadelphia-based firm says children with disabilities are being shortchanged due to underfunding by the state for special education programs. Taking a look at school district and state contributions to special education for school years from 2008-09 to 2016-17, the ELC says the state’s portion has dropped from one-third to less than one-quarter in that timeframe. In the meantime, 83 percent of school districts have had their own share of expenditures increase, with 53 districts reporting increases of 20 percent or more. “Pennsylvania’s growing reliance on locally designated funding to provide needed services for students with disabilities is unsustainable,” read a portion of the report. “It forces local school boards to choose between raising additional revenue to meet funding gaps, spreading limited resources across a range of programs, and/or reducing needed services and supports for students with disabilities. It exposes families to local tax increases and service cuts.” In Delaware County, Upper Darby School District has had their expenditures for special education more than double in the studied time frame, from approximately $20 million to $41.8 million. As a percentage, the district’s share has increased from 57 to 77 percent. “The rising costs of special education services over the years is mainly attributed to the increase in the number of students served, with just over 1,500 students serviced as of March 2009 to just over 2,500 students served at the end of the 2017-2018 school year,” said Upper Darby Acting Assistant Superintendent Edward Marshaleck. “In addition, the cost of services, tuition, legal fees and settlement costs have risen over the years to reflect the level of the specific services or resources and the cost of the provider.” On the opposite end of the county, Garnet Valley has had their special education expenses almost double. Additionally, they are tied with Haverford for being the county school district that contributes the most money to special education at 86 percent. Garnet Valley Superintendent Marc Bertrando said special education accounts for approximately 20 percent of the district’s budget, and that while the expenses have increased by triple-digit percentages, the state and federal IDEA subsidies have only increased 23 and 17 percent, respectively. The state and federal money was covering 28 percent of the district’s costs but is now down to 14 percent as of 2016-17…. “When IDEA was enacted, the government promised to subsidize 40 percent of the costs to educate special education students. Unfortunately, we receive less than 4.9 percent…. Out-of-district placement, 1:1 paraprofessional support, transportation, contracts for behavior and mental health services are some of the common costs attached to educating a special needs child in a district, not to mention the legal costs for litigation matters….

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