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Educators Urge Wolf to Up Funding for Special Education

More than 270,000 children with disabilities attend Pennsylvania schools. (akshayapatra/pixabay)
More than 270,000 children with disabilities attend Pennsylvania schools. (akshayapatra/pixabay)
January 7, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Education advocates want Gov. Tom Wolf to include increased funding in the next state budget for some of the state's most marginalized students.

A letter to the governor from the Education Law Center asks him to propose an increase of at least $400 million for basic education funding and $100 million for special education.

Federal law requires states to provide a free, appropriate public education for all students with disabilities, in the least restrictive environment.

According to Reynelle Brown Staley, the center's policy director, from 2008 to 2016, special education costs in Pennsylvania increased by more than $1.5 billion, while state support for those costs increased by only $72 million, forcing local districts to make up the difference.

"Local districts have varying ability to come up with the money, so we're asking the state to meet their legal obligation to ensure that students with disabilities have access to the educational services that they need," she states.

Staley points out that inadequate state funding has led to Pennsylvania having the largest funding gap between rich and poor school districts of any state in the nation.

Staley notes that the additional funds need to be distributed through the state's fair funding formula, which takes varying levels of need into account.

"Students who have significant disabilities require additional levels of state support,” she stresses. “So, putting money through the formula will direct funds to the districts that have students with the greatest educational needs."

Staley adds that charter schools also should get tiered funding based on the severity of the disabilities of the students they serve.

She says an indicator of how well a school funding system works is how well it serves students who are the most marginalized.

"When we have that, we'll know that we're making efforts to ensure that all students across Pennsylvania have access to a quality public education," she states.

Wolf is scheduled to deliver his annual budget address on Feb. 5.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA