WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – School districts across the state say they are not getting enough funding to cover the costs of special education.
The director of the Butler County Special Education Interlocal, April Hilyard, says the need for these programs is growing.
“Not only are the numbers of students increasing who receive special education services, but the intensity of services continues to increase, and that means that the funds that are available to us just don’t go as far as they used to go,” Hilyard said.
The federal government’s goal is to fund 40% of special education costs. While Kansas statute suggests they fund 92% of the excess special education cost.
“Both right now federal and state are short of what’s written in the statutes,” said Craig Neuenswander, Kansas State Department of Education, Deputy Commissioner for Fiscal and Administration. “The legislature has been increasing funding for special education. The problem is it’s not increasing as fast as costs are. So, as a result, we fall a little further behind every year. The last time that we hit 92% of the excess cost was in 2010, 2011.”
When federal and state do not meet what’s stated in the statute, it causes districts to grab from other parts of their budget.
“The districts have to make really difficult decisions about those optional programs that can benefit students because they’re having to provide resources to special education, which is not optional. So when I listen to our superintendents, they’re supportive of our programming, but they know it comes at a cost to their district for their general education students,” Hilyard said.
“Which means some need for other areas is going unmet. Whether that’s increasing class size for general education, population, or some project doesn’t get completed, or a para doesn’t get hired for a regular ed[ucation] kindergarten class, something has to go unmet,” said Susan Willis, Chief Financial Officer at Wichita Public Schools – USD 259.
The cost might be higher than you think.
The Haven superintendent shared on social media that his district had to pull more than $288,000 from local funds.
“We’re transferring beyond what we received indirect, special education aid $44 million into special education,” Willis said,
It’s a funding issue stretching beyond special education to all students.
“I think you’re seeing so much conversation taking place about the need to fund special ed, which is becoming more and more expensive, and we’re competing for a smaller and smaller labor pool, but not at the cost of services to general edge students,” Willis said.
There is an initiative among educators to go to the state legislature and advocate for more funding next session, which begins in January.