04 May Failure to fund special education impacts all studentsMay 4, 2016
By: Kathy Kelker
The Montana Constitution says it is the goal of the people to establish a system of education that develops the full educational potential of each person. This includes helping students with disabilities to reach their potential.
The legislative School Funding Commission is looking at the state funding of special education to determine if students are being provided an equal opportunity to learn. Questions have arisen as to the adequacy of state funding for special education.
The 2015 Legislature funded inflationary costs for general public education, but not for special education. If the state fails to fund special education adequately, school districts have to shift dollars from their general funds leaving less money for all students.
The state requires school districts to make a 33 percent general fund match for special education dollars, but most are paying much more. Statewide, the average local district is paying 41.3 percent of actual special education cost from its regular education funding.
Special Education Cooperatives serve 81 percent of Montana school districts. Cooperatives do not have taxing authority. They are dependent on a state formula that allots only five percent of the annual special education appropriation to them. This amount has not been adjusted since the 1980s, and does not adequately cover the expenses of recruitment, training and support of highly qualified professionals or pay for staff transportation to serve children in large geographic areas.
The School Funding Commission must weigh whether children with disabilities are receiving an equal educational opportunity and whether their services are adequately funded by the state. If money from school districts’ general funds has to go to special education, other programs that benefit all students have to be cut back. Equity in special education funding affects all students and must be addressed to meet the requirements of the Montana Constitution.