TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT)- Special education funding is expected to be a hot topic heading into next year’s legislative session as students and teachers struggle with a lack of money and resources.
Kansas is supposed to cover 92% of special education costs that aren’t met by the federal government. However, according to the Kansas Association of School Boards, the state hasn’t fully met that requirement in more than a decade.
Leah Fliter, a spokeswoman for the public education organization, said that the current number sits at 71%, leaving school districts to fill a nearly $160 million gap through “general funds.”
“If they didn’t have to backfill special education costs with their general education funds, they would be able to raise teacher pay, which is a big issue for our districts as well as far as recruitment and retention of quality teachers… they would be able to hire more paraprofessionals to help teachers in the classroom,” Fliter said.
Fliter said her organization is pushing for special education to be fully funded next year as lawmakers work on the budget.
Lawmakers in the Legislative Budget Committee, which studies and makes recommendations on the state budget, met Tuesday at the Kansas Statehouse.
In an interview with Kansas Capitol Bureau, Senator Tom Hawk, a democrat from Manhattan who sits on the committee, said that lawmakers in the Education committee, who also sift through the budget, should consider full funding next year.
“I think we do need to fully fund special ed so that our school districts have the money they need to address these critical programs for our students,” Hawk said.
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly asked the Republican-controlled Legislature to boost money for special education during last year’s session. However, the plan was rejected.
Republican senator Rick Billinger, who chairs the Legislative Budget Committee, said special education funding is an important issue, but he also believes the federal government needs to meet its end of the deal.
“As far as full funding, I think it’s going to have to be a number that everyone needs to agree on. First off, the federal government … they’re supposed to be paying 40%, and they’re paying, like 15%, and that seems to be dropping,” Billinger said.