Federal Government Chronically Late With Special Ed Funds

California schools that cater to special needs students are waiting for additional funding from the federal government and, according to a story from the San Francisco Gate, the wait will be a long one. And meanwhile, the districts are finding themselves forced to dig deeper into practically empty coffers to meet obligations of federally mandated programs while waiting for the government to pay up on their commitments.

The legislation governing the programs for special education students that states are required to provide also tasks the federal government with covering 40% of the costs associated with running them. Yet according to recent analysis by the California state government, these payments are frequently delayed and fail to meet the 40% standard.

At the moment, grants from the feds cover about 20% of the costs of running programs for students with disabilities and special needs, and districts must dip into their own pockets to cover the rest. And the “rest” represents a substantial expense. Currently about 10% of California students qualify for some or all of the special education services provided by the districts and the state, at a cost of about $8.6 billion per year.

The report also offered a synopsis of how students with special needs perform academically. As is the case with mainstream students, test scores are up, but the majority of those in special-education programs are not proficient. In addition, the report outlines how many districts are not held accountable for special-education test scores because their special-needs enrollment is too small to be considered numerically significant. But added up, that means 88 percent of schools were not monitored or subject to sanctions based on the performance of special-needs students, according to the report’s author, Rachel Ehlers.

Rachel Norton, a board member in the San Francisco School District who is herself a mother of a special needs child, says that the report concisely outlines the issues facing the special education programs in the state. She said that the report could prove an invaluable tool for lawmakers and education experts charged with crafting special education policy.

Specifically, she points to the steps taken by districts to identify students who could benefit from additional help and how those steps result in a disproportionate number of African-American students being classified as being in need of assistance — especially African-American male students.

It would also be nice to see more federal money to support local districts, she said.

California would get about $2 billion more each year if the federal government paid 40 percent of costs.

Year after year, Congress has failed to pass bills supporting that, Norton said.

She added that California is not asking for anything other than that the federal government allocate enough money to fund the mandates it forces on the states.

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