Cost of special-ed services leans on local taxpayers

February 17, 2019

Along with recruitment and retention of qualified staff, funding is also an issue in special education, with more costs being covered by local taxes over time as opposed to state and federal dollars.

As with general education, special-education funding is a combination of state and federal money (which may include Medicaid reimbursement) and local taxes. Expenditures for the 2017-18 school year added up to approximately 69 million dollars in state fiscal year 2018. This amount represented over 47 percent of the total expenditures for special education.

“The need for public school districts to expend local funds to cover the cost of special education presents a significant challenge to districts. However, another dimension of the challenge public schools face when they budget for special education is the relatively unpredictable nature of special-education costs, particularly for small districts.”

One of the issues with lagging state funding, is that unlike general education, there is no current law in place to provide automatic, annual inflationary increases, which House Bill 27, sponsored by Rep. Moffie Funk, D-Helena, seeks to build in.

“With special-ed payments we always have to ask to approve inflationary increases and it doesn’t always happen,” Podobnik said.

The bill also proposes revising how money is distributed with a higher percentage of funding allocated to special-education cooperatives to cover administration and travel costs and decreasing other allocation percentages.

Podobnik said this is the third legislative session a bill like this has been introduced. The bill is currently pending in the House Appropriations Committee.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.