Fewer federal funds for special education

Mesa County school districts lost $84,187 in federal special-education funding for 2011–12 compared to 2010-11. But the Colorado Department of Education has stepped in to fill that gap.

Each year, Colorado school districts with special needs students receive federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding for special education as well as Exceptional Children’s Educational Act (ECEA) funding for the same purpose. When this year’s IDEA funding dropped 0.2 percent year-over-year for 2011–12, the state decided to patch the $3 million hole by cutting back on some state-level projects previously planned for next school year.

The cut to IDEA funding was likely a result of competition for funds between federal programs, according to Ed Steinberg, assistant commissioner of special education for the Colorado Department of Education.

“Thankfully, we were anticipating or fearing there would be even deeper cuts, so a 0.2 percent reduction isn’t as bad,” Steinberg said.

Last year, District 51, Plateau Valley School District 50 and De Beque School District 49JT shared $4.065 million in IDEA funding, which is the amount it will get this year with the extra $84,000 from the state. Sixty Colorado school districts and programs shared $137 million in IDEA funding this year and will get that amount next year thanks to the state’s added contribution.

Local school districts are required to provide services to special-needs students in public schools and use IDEA and ECEA money to fund everything from teacher training to providing aids to work one-on-one with students. Steinberg said the CDE should learn as early as next week how much funding the districts will get this fall from ECEA.

“What I’ve been hearing, and I just don’t know, is we’re not anticipating any increases. We’re hoping it will be level-funded,” Steinberg said.

State special-education funding is determined based on the number of low-income students, students on special-education plans, and students with disabilities attend public school in a district. School districts receive $6,000 from the state per student for students who are blind, deaf, have a traumatic brain injury, a hearing impairment or visual disability, or emotional disabilities.

District 51 Director of Student Services Executive Director Tanya Skalecki said the district may see a dip next year from the $3.6 million in state special-education funding it received this year because the district expects to have 51 fewer special-education students. The monetary loss will depend on how many of those lost students will fall into one of the above categories.

Skalecki said she plans to move some current IDEA funding into a federal stimulus fund and carry that money from this year into next year to help plug that potential hole in state funding.

“I’m planning for status quo,” Skalecki said.


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