California governor and lawmakers at odds over new special education funding
It’s not the amount, which is big, but how to spend it.
MAY 28, 2019
SPECIAL ED-CREDIT: ISTOCK / EVAFOTOGRAFIE
A child with Down Syndrome draws a picture.
Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders agree that the state should significantly increase funding for students with disabilities. But, in one of the biggest disagreements over next year’s state budget, they head into negotiations far apart on how they would spend the new money.
Newsom is proposing an additional $696 million in ongoing funding for special education in his budget for next year. Last week, the Assembly Budget Committee rejected outright the new formula that the Department of Finance has proposed for divvying up that additional money. The 21 percent increase for students with special needs would be the largest in decades. But critics — and they are numerous — point out fewer than a quarter of the state’s school districts would qualify for any of the new money and once they get it, they could spend it however they want.
Special Education Funding Is A Morass; Straightening It Out May Not Be Cheap Or Easy
Instead, the Assembly committee’s proposal for an additional $593 million instead would pay for services for students with disabilities in preschool — an age group that currently gets no state funding — and equalize funding for the regional special education agencies that administer funding and services on behalf of school districts and charter schools. This is the approach that a past state task force on special education urged and the Coalition for Adequate Funding for Special Education and associations representing school boards and school administrators are endorsing.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office also panned Newsom’s new program in its review of the May revision of the state budget and the Senate Budget Committee has created a united front for negotiations by making funding equalization and preschool funding of special education its priorities, too. However, it would attach restrictions not in the Assembly’s version.
Districts bear bulk of costs
Newsom’s program wouldn’t affect the current funding system, in which the state funnels its portion of special education funding through the 134 agencies that work with districts and charter schools, called Special Education Local Planning Agencies, or SELPAs. Funding for the agencies is based on the total number of students, not just students with disabilities, enrolled in the districts served by SELPAs. SELPAs are funded at disparate rates per student under a 40-year-old, outdated formula, creating further inequities.
The federal government’s share of special education funding has declined significantly over the past decade and the state’s share stagnated under Gov. Jerry Brown, who made funding of the Local Control Funding Formula, governing K-12 spending that is separate from special education, his top priority. As a result, the state and federal government contribute less than 40 percent of the $13.2 billion in special education spending in California, with school districts paying the rest out of their general budgets.
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