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SD Educators Ask Feds to Keep Funding Promise for Special Ed

South Dakota schools educate an increasing number of students with special needs each year, but lack much of the funding promised by the federal government. (buckslu.org)
South Dakota schools educate an increasing number of students with special needs each year, but lack much of the funding promised by the federal government. (buckslu.org)
April 12, 2019

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – Congress is looking at a resolution that would help South Dakota and other states pay for special education, and educators in the state say it's about time the federal government pays what it promised.

The "Individuals with Disabilities in Education Full Funding Act" was passed in 1975, to ensure that free public education is available to all eligible children with disabilities.

Mary McCorkle, president of the South Dakota Education Association says Congress agreed that the federal government would pay 40% of the costs, with the rest covered by states. But it didn't happen, putting schools and school districts across the country in a difficult spot.

"It has never funded that 40%,” says McCorkle. “So schools across the country and here in South Dakota have gotten farther and farther behind. And now, it's at about 14% of the cost."

To meet the needs of special education students, South Dakota school districts have bridged the funding gap through the state's Extraordinary Cost Fund.

McCorkle says state lawmakers have passed bills to try to tackle the issue, but without more federal support, she warns South Dakota could see an education funding crisis.

The federal IDEA law ensures special education and related services to children with disabilities, but bills to fully fund it have stalled in the last few sessions of Congress.

McCorkle says this inaction has affected everything from teacher pay to class size, to districts' ability to afford music, art and physical education classes.

"We need to help our students and support them,” says McCorkle. “And the more the federal government does not keep its obligations, the harder it is for our schools and for our students of South Dakota.”

This year's bipartisan resolution in the U.S. House calls for incremental federal funding hikes for special ed. It would mean the government starts paying its full 40% share beginning in fiscal year 2029.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - SD