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Report: PA “Shortchanges” Students with Disabilities

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From 2009 to 2019 the state share of spending for special education fell from 32 to 22 percent. (pabrady63/Adobe Stock)
From 2009 to 2019 the state share of spending for special education fell from 32 to 22 percent. (pabrady63/Adobe Stock)
December 7, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A new report shows state spending on special education has remained almost unchanged for a decade, leaving school districts to pick up the rising costs.

The report, called "A Decade of Shortchanging Students with Disabilities", demonstrated from 2009 to 2019, Pennsylvania school districts increased spending on special education by $2 billion.

But in that same period, state spending on special education increased by only $110 million.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the Education Law Center, said lack of state support is harming the most underserved students, especially in the state's lowest-wealth school districts.

"Lack of state aid forces school districts to make painful decisions between cuts in needed services or tax increases," Klehr observed.

The Education Law Center called for annual increases of $100 million dollars or more in state spending on special education over several years to meet the growing costs.

Klehr added the declining state share of special-ed funding, down from 32% to 22% over ten years, has a disproportionate impact on students of color.

"Hard hit by the underfunding are Pennsylvania's Black and Latinx students who are historically underserved and are concentrated in the lowest-wealth districts in the state," Klehr asserted.

She explained the rising cost of special ed reflects the response of school districts fulfilling their legal requirement to meet the needs of a growing population of students.

Klehr noted more than 300,000 Pennsylvania students receive special-education services, and the state's shrinking share of funding for those services is only part of the story.

"The problem is compounded by the fact that increases to state basic education funding have also been very limited, which also impacts students with disabilities," Klehr maintained.

The state chips in only 38% of the cost of public education in Pennsylvania, one of the lowest funding rates in the entire country.

Disclosure: Education Law Center contributes to our fund for reporting on Children's Issues, Disabilities, Education, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA