Funding Special Education
California’s special education system serves almost 12% of public school students with yearly allocations of more than $12 billion from local, state, and federal funding sources. Despite changes in the numbers of students served and the nature of their disabilities, its finance system has not been addressed in a comprehensive way for more than two decades.
PPIC recently released Special Education Finance in California, a report examining the system in light of the principles that underlie the Local Control Funding Formula. These principles—which determine how K–12 funds are allocated—are local control and accountability, transparency, and equity. The PPIC report also draws on the 2015 Statewide Special Education Task Force, which envisioned a seamless program of student services that is part of a unified system of general and special education. The PPIC authors recommend changes that can help achieve this vision.
At a well-attended Sacramento event held in conjunction with the release of the PPIC report, coauthor Paul Warren summarized the way the special education finance system works now and outlined PPIC’s recommendations to change it. A panel of education experts then took up the issue. They concurred that it is time for a change.
“The kids can’t wait,” said Kim Conner, whose experience includes being the parent of a child with special needs. “We’ve waited a long time. It’s easy for us to say from a fiscal standpoint, we don’t have money, we don’t know enough . . . But we know so much. We can do this.”
Michael Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education, said the PPIC report is helpful in understanding the current system, which “has some underlying rationales but no overall rationale. It is an accretion of different things.”
“It is very hard to understand, how the money flows, who makes decisions, he said. “It is not adjusted sufficiently for student needs . . . It is inequitable.” Calling the PPIC report “bold and provocative,” he said it “should certainly should kick off a really deep discussion on change.”
Mary Samples, assistant superintendent of the Special Education Local Plan Area in Ventura County, said a key topic in the discussion of change needs whether enough funding is allocated for special education. Samples, who served as chair of the finance subcommittee of the Statewide Special Education Task Force, said, “I don’t think that moving the money from one bucket to another solves the problem. The problem is adequacy of funding.”