Recently signed bill will better serve Pa.'s school districts
After decades of disregarding actual conditions in each of 500 school districts, the state government finally will begin to distribute special education money according to where it is most needed.
Gov. Tom Corbett last week signed a bill creating a commission to distribute special education funding in a way that recognizes the actual need in each district.
Under the current formula, special education funding is distributed on the assumption that each district has a number of special education students equaling 16 percent of its total student population.
That, of course is far from the case. In Northeast Pennsylvania, there is a wide range of special education enrollment. At Northwest Area, it was 21.6 percent in the 2011-2012 school year, for example, while Crestwood's special education enrollment was 10 percent. Yet the state funding formula assumed each rate was 16 percent.
(Bradford and Sullivan counties' special education enrollment percentages for 2011-2012: Athens, 17.3; Sullivan County, 16.1; Canton, 16; Troy, 15.9; Sayre, 14.9; Wyalusing, 14.6; Northeast Bradford, 14.3; and Towanda, 11.4.)
The percentages are not conclusive because of classifications with special education, from least intensive to most intensive. Under the new law, the commission will get accurate enrollment counts in each category, averaged for three years, and distribute funding according to need.
The new system was devised by special education advocates. It makes sense not just relative to current enrollment, but because it ensures that the distribution continuously will keep up with demographic changes as districts gain or lose population.
Special education is one of the greatest expenses most districts face. Distributing state aid according to need rather than by an assumed percentage of enrollment better serves students and taxpayers.