Funding Special Education

Funding Special Education

Funding Special Education

by Karlyn Keller

With the Legislature in session, it is important to stay engaged in discussions and decisions impacting the children we serve.

Chief among these is the need to take a critical look at how schools are funded for serving students with disabilities. To address this issue, the Texas Commission on Special Education Funding was created by House Bill 1525 during the last legislative session. The commission issued a series of recommendations that lawmakers are expected to consider this session.

The state’s special education allocation formula in Chapter 48 of the Texas Education Code has not substantially changed in decades. More money is being spent to serve the total number of students identified for special education due to significant enrollment increases, not because of an increase in additional funding to support each student served. The needs and intensity of services continue to ramp up while funding has remained the same.

Local educational agencies are dependent on state funding to satisfy the mandate of delivering a free and appropriate public education to each student with a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This funding is based solely on student attendance and is calculated based on the percent of time in the instructional day that students in special education are placed in classes with general education students, with differing weights for students in settings such as the hospital, homebound, or other specialized needs.

Related: Special Education Efforts Serve More Students

The current structure focuses on where a student receives instruction rather than the level of instruction they receive. Few to no dollars are allocated for additional services such as mental health needs, counseling, and physical and occupational therapy. Nor is funding provided for the assessment and evaluation of students or those identified with a need for Section 504 support.

As an educator for more than 30 years, with the majority of that time in special education, I’ve witnessed the impact the current funding methodology has had on schools. I’ve had to ask teachers and paraprofessionals to take on more responsibilities because I couldn’t afford to hire another teacher. Once I didn’t have the money to buy the best stander for a student, so I had to repair equipment that was decades old to meet their special needs. Those are just two examples of budgetary challenges SPED teachers still face across the state.

In all, the special education commission issued 14 recommendations and devised three formula-based and 11 non-formula-based funding recommendations. The commission’s recommendations include allocating more funding to schools per student based on their specific needs, increasing funds to help cover the additional cost of transportation and assessments, paying for educators to become certified in special education, and covering portions of their salaries.

Formula-Based Funding Recommendations

  1. Transition to a Service Intensity Based Formula System
  2. Provide a cost offset for full and individual initial evaluations
  3. Increase the per-mile reimbursement rate for special education transportation

Non-Formula-Based Funding Recommendations

  1. Provide funds to cover the retire/rehire penalty for special education staff as a commitment to recruit and retain qualified staff
  2. Provide funding for special education teacher certification exam fees for the first attempt
  3. Appropriate funds to offer salary stipends for special education teachers and paraprofessionals
  4. Increase local educator capacity by establishing targeted grant programs similar to TEA’s Grow Your Own Program
  5. Continue and provide increased funding to the SSES program
  6. Increase the College, Career, and Military Readiness (CCMR) Outcomes Bonus for students served by special education
  7. Provide a grant program for nonprofit agencies dedicated to working with students served by special education in public schools
  8. Maintain at least the current funding levels for dyslexia and autism grants
  9. Increase regulatory authority of TEA regarding nonpublic day and residential facilities to improve LEA capacity and ensure parents have accurate information regarding the State Supported Living Centers (SSLCs) as an option for students receiving significant special education services
  10. Increase capacity and available options of nonpublic day programs across Texas
  11. Consider Educational Savings Accounts

These are only recommendations, and it is up to the Legislature to decide whether to adopt any of them. As the legislative session continues, it is essential that each of us speaks up about the funding challenges faced by our schools in serving the neediest of our students. Without the context of how current funding affects the students in your district, those who approve this funding may not realize how your students are impacted.

Karlyn Keller is division director of TASB Special Education and Student Solutions.

This article was first published in the April 2023 issue of Texas Lone Star.