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Special Education Funding Reform Commission Releases Report

December 17, 201- Hanson Quickel 
HARRISBURG- The Special Education Formula Funding Commission recommended (December 11) that the General Assembly adopt a new formula for distributing state funding for special education in excess of 2010-11 levels, according to co-chairs of the commission Senate Majority Whip Pat Browne and Representative Bernie O’Neill.

The new formula will include factors reflecting students’ needs based on three cost categories – low (category 1), moderate (category 2) and high (category 3). The formula will also include factors reflecting community differences such as market value/personal income aid ratio, equalized millage rate and small and rural school districts.

The commission’s goals also included creating a formula that did not place undue burdens of administrative reporting on state or local education agencies while seeking to improve accuracy in distributing limited state resources. In addition, the formula does not create incentives to over-identify students with learning disabilities.

The current formula does not effectively match the needs of Pennsylvania students with the cost of providing those services. The “census formula” paid school districts based on calculations assuming that 15 percent of all students have mild disabilities and one percent have severe disabilities. Since 2008-09, Pennsylvania has not increased special education funding, effectively ending the use of a funding formula.

“The new formula will be a great improvement over the current system, which is ineffective in ensuring that state money is adequately and equitability being distributed,” Senator Browne said. “This formula will take into account the actual number of students needing specialized education services and base the funding for those students on the degree to which they need those services.”

Nearly 270,000 children – or one out of every 6.5 students – receive special education services in Pennsylvania public schools. In schools with adequate resources, academic achievement for children with disabilities averages close to the results for all students. State funding for special education is slightly less than $1 billion a year.

“There are many factors that have an impact on the financial stability of special education programs in our schools,” Representative O’Neill said. “The commission has gathered a wealth of valuable feedback and data from school districts, parents and special education organizations, and we took a look at how other states drive out funding for special education. All of this information has allowed us to develop a funding structure based on the actual costs involved in providing special needs students with the resources they need to succeed.”

The commission also determined that the special education reimbursements system for charter schools and cyber charter schools should receive similar reforms.

The 15-member commission, created through Act 3 of 2013 (sponsored by Senator Browne and Representative O’Neill), was charged with developing a system for allocating any new state special education funding in a manner that recognizes the actual number of physically- and mentally-challenged students in a school and the various levels of their need for services.

Other members of the commission include: Senators Mike Folmer; Andrew Dinniman; James Brewster; Ted Erickson; and, Judith Schwank; Representatives Paul Clymer; James Roebuck; Mark Longietti; Michael Peifer; and, Mike Sturla; Charles Zogby, Secretary of the Budget; Carolyn Dumaresq, Acting Secretary of Education; and, Rita Perez, Acting Deputy Secretary of Education.

The commission held seven public hearings throughout the state in the summer and fall of this year. It listened to testimony from more than 50 witnesses ranging from students to parents to educators to experts on special education.

“We would like to thank our colleagues who logged many hours listening to testimony and pouring through pages of data and information,” Senator Browne and Representative O’Neill said. “The commission was tasked with ensuring that every school district receives the funding required to provide a proper education to children with special needs and we believe we have laid out a plan that succeeds in doing that.

“We would also like to thank everyone who testified or contacted the commission with information that helped us to come to this important conclusion and vision. It is clear there are many people across the state that have made reforming special education funding a priority and wanted to help.”

For more information on the report recommended by the commission, visit the Special Education Funding Formula Commission’s website which is on Senator Browne’s homepage at www.senatorbrowne.com.

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