A couple of superintendents with local school districts weighed in on a recent study that reports state special education funding in Pennsylvania is not keeping pace with local needs.
The report, titled “Shortchanging Children with Disabilities: State Underfunding of Special Education in Pennsylvania,” was the result of a study by the state Education Law Center through its “advocacy for parents and caregivers whose children fail to receive services and supports that are needed and are legally entitled to receive.”
The report reviewed all school districts as well as state and local contributions for special education state funding. It found that special education funding in Pennsylvania “has been growing far more slowly than expenditures, effectively shifting more of the responsibility for funding special education to local school districts.”
The report further stated that “special education funding is critical to ensuring that students with disabilities receive a free appropriate public education with specialized instruction tailored to their unique needs, in the least restrictive environment, and designed to achieve grade advancement and real progress in light of a child’s potential.”
The report noted that total school district spending on special education in Pennsylvania grew by $1.54 billion over an eight-year period ending in 2017, but state aid for special education during that same period grew by only $72 million.
School districts have to come up with nearly $20 for every state dollar provided for special education in order to cover the expenditure increases, the report added.
The study further stated that districts have to find ways to raise new revenues locally or redirect general education funds to meet special education needs.
Local educators who responded to inquiries from The Era regarding the study included Katharine Pude, superintendent of the Bradford Area School District.
‘The funding for special education has never covered the costs of the mandates” in the district, Pude remarked. “I think that as special education numbers increase in some school districts, they are feeling the financial pressure more and are being more vocal.”
Dr. Brian Toth, superintendent of St. Marys Area School District, shared similar sentiments.
“(Mandates) are just as the definition, we must do what is mandated and generally no money follows from the government to implement what is legislated,” Toth lamented.
“When the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was passed by the U.S. Congress in about 1974, they pledged to fund this Act by 30 percent,” he continued. “Federal funding for IDEA has not even reached 20 percent.”
He added, “Thus, at the state level, as special education costs continue to rise, states are not funding districts to provide mandated services for those students most in need.
“Because the state education increase for the (school district) amounted to only about 0.05 percent this year, we are forced to increase local taxes to help with these costs,” he explained. “Also, districts are forced to take funds from other areas to fund these mandated programs.”
Toth said the school district does its “best to meet the needs for all students and this is becoming very difficult to balance.”
He added the school district receives 68 percent of its revenue from local sources and only 32 percent from the state.
“This is just wrong and needs corrected by the state now,” Toth stated. “It appears that our elected state officials do not care about local residents.”