A measure that will provide long overdue reform to Pennsylvania’s special education funding formula received final legislative approval on Tuesday (April 9) and is headed to the governor for his signature and enactment into law, according to Representative Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks) and Senator Pat Browne (R-Lehigh).
House Bill 2, introduced by Representative O’Neill, will create a 15-member panel to allocate 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.
The legislation does not establish a new funding formula and it does not reduce the current level of special education funding received by local school districts.
“This legislation provides a mechanism for ensuring that Pennsylvania’s special education funding is allocated in a way that best utilized those resources,” said Representative O’Neill. “Our state’s archaic formula for funding special education has been in place for 20 years. This unfair distribution method starves areas with increasing populations of special needs students of the resources they need to succeed.”
“The reforms and the changes proposed in this bill are important and they are long overdue. Pennsylvania’s special education funding formula system is ineffective in ensuring that state money is adequately and equitability distributed,” said Senator Browne, who introduced Senate Bill 470 as the companion bill to HB 2 in the Senate. “Special education funding in Pennsylvania is currently based on a rigid formula that does not take into account the actual number of students needing specialized education services or the type and intensity of assistance that they require.”
Currently, state funding for special education is distributed based on an estimate that special education students make up 16 percent of the overall student population in each school district.
“These funds can be partially augmented by a contingency fund for students with extraordinary expenses,” O’Neill added. “However, there is currently nothing in place to assist schools that continually struggle with higher special education costs. The 16 percent assumption does not reflect our current special education population.”
The legislative commission will use the following parameters to develop a new formula for distributing any increases in special education funding over the levels allocated in the 2010-11 school year:
- The formula must include the establishment of three cost categories for students receiving special education services, ranging from least intensive to most intensive.
- The commission must obtain a student count for each school district, averaged for the three most recent school years, for each cost category established.
- The commission will assign a weight to each category of disability.
- The commission must develop a fair system for distributing the increase among the school districts and calculate the amount of funding that each school will receive under the new formula.
The commission will issue a report of its findings by September 30, but the new special education funding formula will not go into effect until approved by the General Assembly.
(Representative O’Neill) Abbey Fosnot
(Senator Browne) Vicki Wilken