School Funding

PA special education funding leaves students behind / Public News Service

As the number of students with disabilities in Pennsylvania increases, a new report argues that the share of public funding for education has declined. Education advocates say state lawmakers can use this year’s budget surplus to support students.

In 2008, Pennsylvania contributed nearly one-third of the total cost of special education, but in 2020 that amount has dropped to 22%.

And all the while, costs have been rising for every school district, according to Sharon Ward – senior policy adviser at the Education Law Center, who published The report.

She said this hurts students in the poorest districts the most and can cause them to miss out on services such as individualized education programs.

“What we hear from parents is that there are delays in the development of IEPs,” Ward said. “If you can reach children in the early years and help them meet many of their learning needs, that means they will have a more successful student career.”

An estimated 308,000 students received special education services in the 2019-20 school year, up 14% from the 2008-09 school year.

The report adds that a lack of adequate funding for special education prevents students from accessing individualized support, assistive technologies and other interventions.

The report also includes policy recommendations for state lawmakers and education officials, such as adding $200 million to special education funding for the 2022-23 school year.

Ward added that they would like to see the state close the charter school loophole, where districts must provide charter schools with a set amount of funding per student, regardless of disability.

“We would like charter schools to be held to the same cost-based system as district schools,” Ward said. “Frankly, school districts send money to charter schools to serve students with disabilities and they don’t, they use those dollars for other purposes.”

The Education Law Center, Public Interest Law Center and O’Melveny Law Firm were in the courtroom recently to present their case than how schools are funded in the state violates the education clause and equal protection provisions of the state constitution.

He is awaiting a decision from a Commonwealth Court judge.

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