Legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett last week has created a new commission that will change the way school districts' special education programs are funded by the state.
Currently, the state simply assumes that all school districts in Pennsylvania have a 16 percent population of special needs students and subsidizes the programs accordingly. Essentially, this provides more populous school districts with more funding.
State Rep. Bernie O'Neill (R-Bucks), sponsor of House Bill 2, took issue with that approach. His legislation charges the newly formed Special Education Funding Commission with creating a model that provides money to school districts based on the actual number of special needs students they have in three distinct categories, which range from least to most cost intensive.
"The first category are those who have what you would call minor impact of disability," O'Neill said. "Category 3 would be the severely handicapped, whether it be physical, mental handicap, or a combination of both. Most of the kids in Category 3 are largely a combination of both, and they're the most costly (to educate)."
O'Neill said it's fairer to award school districts with special education funding this way.
"For example, I know a district that's one of the smaller districts in the state, but they have one of the largest populations of Category 3," O'Neill said. "When I say the cost of these students in Category 3, it can be anywhere from 100,000 (dollars) to, I know of students who are 300,000 dollars."
O'Neill said school district taxpayers are often forced to pick up the bill when state funding for special education is not proportional to the district's actual special needs population. He said the Special Education Funding Commission should be ready to propose a new funding model in October.