Special Education Funding in Pennsylvania

Keystone Crossroads profiled the Chester-Upland School District’s attempts to increase revenue by attracting more special education students. Here’s the logic:

In the tangled world of Pennsylvania public school financing, special education payments to charters are a particularly thorny problem.

The payments are not calculated based on the actual cost of services, which can vary widely depending on a given student’s needs. Nor are they based on the actual number of students served.

Instead, payments are calculated by a bafflingly complex formula that treats all districts and disabilities equally. The results can seem absurd, but bust budgets nonetheless.

Read the full article here.


4 thoughts on “Special Education Funding in Pennsylvania

  1. As a Pennsylvania charter school educator, I find it difficult to send any type of charter school student back to the Chester-Upland School District environment. There is a reason these families left CUSD, it’s not necessarily fair to try and “get these students back” if they purposely left the school district. Unfortunately, new legislation passed by the PA House does not help districts solve the issue of “poaching special education students” from regular school districts. In essence, nothing can be done, so I’m curious as to how CUSD is going to “get the students back”, will legislation be created to ultimately force the students back into their home districts?

    I do also understand that entirely too much money is allocated for special education students and not being used properly for them. This is a state-wide issue and better legislation needs to be passed in order to rectify this problem. The entire system is unfair and needs to become balanced in order to better serve the 500 school districts and thousands of private and charter schools across the state of Pennsylvania.

  2. The article clearly articulates the issues behind the special education funding inequities: assumptions “that all districts serve the same percentage of special education students — 16 percent . . . [and] that high-cost and low-cost special ed students are equally distributed in charters and district schools.” It therefore comes as no surprise that school districts try to take advantage of any opportunity to secure more funding when state budgets are constantly in flux. I continue to be surprised by the amount of advertising that is done even among public schools, as Chester Upland School District (CUSD) attempts to attract special education students (and their blanket extra funding) to return to public schools. The district is particularly targeting the most highly functioning of those students, since they still bring the maximum funding with them and require the least cost to educate.

    It makes very little sense to have a standard rate for special education students, while the services they need vary so widely in expense and severity. However, determining a more precise level for each student would likely add more bureaucracy and confusion to an already complex system. It seems that the 2013 reform bill attempted this with three different cost categories, but only applies to a small portion of the funding. Expanding the bill failed; this represents an area where lobbyists could work to expand the coverage. At the least, the legislature should amend existing education legislation to require charter schools “to spend special ed payments on special ed students,” which is not currently in place.

    I was surprised to learn “that students needing costlier services tend to concentrate in schools run by traditional districts, not charters.” I would have thought that these families would particularly seek alternative education options.

  3. Who thought student funding could be so complicated?
    This article is supposed to be about special ed students of all different need level have blanket vouchers and those vouchers are causing a great distortion of the deliver-ability of education to all children in the public schools. Instead of following through on that issue, the article actually makes the point that its the law, the law makers, and the advocates who are to blame for creating such a tangled system. The idea that all special need children have the same price tag is alarmingly misinformed and under thought. And the idea that a single student costs the same as a bulk of students is also incredibly misguided. And yet somehow both of these concepts were not only allowed to be presented, they were consented upon into law. The champion of this cause should be the local advocates, but instead of pushing against the absurdities and protecting the children, those advocates are loudly parading the platform of gaming the system to try and garnish more money back out of charter schools, literally referring to special education children as prized prey. The distortion of the the actual issue of an education gap being twisted into an article about an odd loophole is disparaging to say the least. I hope that when there is reaction to this article by the community and law makers they actually reflect the childrens needs over that of the school systems.

  4. I think it is very bizarre that schools are attempting to juggle special education students in order to balance their financial books. Each student in special education requires vastly different amounts of care and resources; a standard price tag would be inadequate for some students/schools and over-priced for other students/schools (this does not mean that the two cancel each-other out though).
    I can only imagine how much more intense this battle of the budgets will get and how much more charter and public schools will continue to clash. It is a shame because sometimes public school is better for some students and charter schools are better for others. The main clash that I always witness between the two sets of schools is based on funding (there are other minuet differences as well).
    Even though I know that much of the funding should be done on a case by case basis, per student, I also know that that would be very tedious and complicated as well.

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