Special Education Funding Formula Commission Releases Report

special.20000250_stdHARRISBURG – The Special Education Funding Formula Commission today recommended that the General Assembly adopt a new formula for distributing state funding for special education in excess of 2010-11 levels, according to co-chairs of the commission Senate Majority Whip Pat Browne (R-Lehigh/Northampton/Monroe) and Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks).

The new formula will include factors reflecting students’ needs based on three cost categories – low (category 1), moderate (category 2) and high (category 3). The formula will also include factors reflecting community differences such as market value/personal income aid ratio, equalized millage rate and small and rural school districts.

The commission’s goals also included creating a formula that did not place undue burdens of administrative reporting on state or local education agencies while seeking to improve accuracy in distributing limited state resources. In addition, the formula does not create incentives to over-identify students with learning disabilities.

The current formula does not effectively match the needs of Pennsylvania students with the cost of providing those services. The “census formula” paid school districts based on calculations assuming that 15 percent of all students have mild disabilities and 1 percent have severe disabilities. Since 2008-09, Pennsylvania has not increased special education funding, effectively ending the use of a funding formula.

“The new formula will be a great improvement over the current system, which is ineffective in ensuring that state money is adequately and equitability being distributed,” Browne said. “This formula will take into account the actual number of students needing specialized education services and base the funding for those students on the degree to which they need those services.”

Nearly 270,000 children – or one out of every 6.5 students – receive special education services in Pennsylvania public schools. In schools with adequate resources, academic achievement for children with disabilities averages close to the results for all students. State funding for special education is slightly less than $1 billion a year.

“There are many factors that have an impact on the financial stability of special education programs in our schools,” O’Neill added. “The commission has gathered a wealth of valuable feedback and data from school districts, parents and special education organizations, and we took a look at how other states drive out funding for special education. All of this information has allowed us to develop a funding structure based on the actual costs involved in providing special needs students with the resources they need to succeed.”

The commission also determined that the special education reimbursements system for charter schools and cyber charter schools should receive similar reforms.

The 15-member commission, created through Act 3 of 2013 (sponsored by Browne and O’Neill), was charged with developing a system for allocating any new state special education funding in a manner that recognizes the actual number of students with physical and intellectual disabilities in a school and the various levels of their need for services.

Other members of the commission include: Sens. Mike Folmer (R-Lebanon), Andrew Dinniman (D-Chester/Montgomery), James Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), Ted Erickson (R-Delaware/Chester) and Judith Schwank (D-Berks); Reps. Paul Clymer (R-Bucks), James Roebuck (D-Philadelphia), Mark Longietti (D-Mercer), Michael Peifer (R-Monroe/Pike/Wayne) and Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster); Charles Zogby, secretary of the budget; Carolyn Dumaresq, acting secretary of education; and Rita Perez, acting deputy secretary of education.

The commission held seven public hearings throughout the state in the summer and fall of this year. It heard to testimony from more than 50 witnesses ranging from students to parents to educators to experts on special education.

“We would like to thank our colleagues who logged many hours listening to testimony and pouring through pages of data and information,” Browne and O’Neill said. “The commission was tasked with ensuring that every school district receives the funding required to provide a proper education to children with special needs and we believe we have laid out a plan that succeeds in doing that.

“We would also like to thank everyone who testified or contacted the commission with information that helped us to come to this important conclusion and vision. It is clear there are many people across the state who have made reforming special education funding a priority and wanted to help.”

~ News Release via Representative Bernie O’Neill ~
~ 29th District,  Pennsylvania House of Representatives


3 thoughts on “Special Education Funding Formula Commission Releases Report

  1. I think it would be most helpful for the commission to lay out a table that shows how the new plan would distribute funds differently so that each school district could see exactly how this will impact. One of the issues that always causes me concern is the inclusion of severally disabled children in cyber schools. In my experience these children need far more hands on involvement and support. I think they and their peers also benefit from being in the same buildings together. It gives the regular and advanced students exposure to the disabilities children, thereby giving them a broader culture understanding. It also puts the disabilities children in a much more social atmosphere which is I believe more normalizing and supportive long term.

  2. So many children are being misdiagnosed with autism these days. Special education officials need to be on the look out for parents who push their doctors, or hire “special education advocates” to insist their children are really autistic when there is no OFFICIAL autism diagnosis for the child. In California, there is rampant abuse of the autism label among parents of young children trying to get their children extra help in the classroom, when if you look at these children, they are talking normally, walking, writing, reading and doing everything normal, but may only be “mentally ill” with bipolar, depression or have aphasia (loss of speech) or dysphasia (difficulty comprehending speech) due to subclinical or obvious seizures. Truly a problem situation that is rooted in the overall ignorance and confidence of doctors, psychologists, special education administrators and school psychologists to properly discern who is autistic and who is not. And WHAT other disorders and conditions can mimic autism. A truly autistic person always presents as being in their own world, they DO NOT answer your questions like normal non autistic children! You will see echolalia (repeating the same sentences or words) or you’ll see obsession on ONE or TWO subjects. You’ll also see obsession on routines and rituals. Obsessions with water play. Mild to severe self injurious behaviors. And a hallmark trait of autism is fixations on different foods, flavors and textures. Don’t be fooled by parents who want their children to be autistic because they themselves are mentally ill and don’t know how to care for their children. Or are taken in by the “hype” of autism around them. The last straw was when yet ANOTHER mom told me her child was diagnosed with “high functioning” autism, but admitted he “may be just PDD (pervasive developmental disorder)” When I asked her, “Does it bother you that your son may be labeled with autism when he really doesn’t have it?” the mother said, “I don’t really care. So long as he gets the services he needs in school.” There you have folks. The autism label is no longer about autism, it’s about people like Jenny McCarthy who never had an autistic child (he had Landau Kleffner Syndrome) but rode the autism wave and made millions off her books, and parents who don’t really have autistic children, but insisting they do, are now costing taxpayers millions by having their children diagnosed with autism “for the services” and autism researchers who don’t give care if they are really including real autistic children and adults in their studies, cuz it’s just about money. No wonder there is an “epidemic” of autism, because there is an “epidemic” of people who are so CLUELESS about what autism is and isn’t, has created MASS chaos and confusion. Wake up people.

  3. Like so many, if not all, of the mental illnesses and intellectual disabilities, our understanding of Autism has evolved and changed over the years. We now use the term “Autism Spectrum Disorders” instead of a simple label of “Autism.” This is in realization and acceptance of the concept of one size does not fit all and there are actually varying degrees of Autism, from a mild version to a much more devastating and severe version. I do not believe parents or anyone else is trying to deceive or cheat the system. Similarly, I believe people all over the country are trying to get a better and better understanding of the degrees of severity of this spectrum disorder. By truly understanding the complexity of this spectrum the outcomes for all of these children and adults is much more hopeful.

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