New special education funding formula wins Sen. Schwank's approval

Sen. Judy Schwank

State Sen. Judy Schwank said today she is pleased with a special commission’s recommendation to change Pennsylvania’s formula for financing special education.

The Special Education Funding Reform Commission released a long-awaited report Wednesday saying if Pennsylvania changes the way it calculates its special education payments, it will make the system more accurate, easier to use, and better distribute limited public dollars to students who need it most.

“We began our work in June to find a better formula, and we have found one that pays better attention to the needs of our special students in Berks County and beyond,” said Schwank, a member of the commission.

“Unlike a class of 5th graders or sophomores or 1st graders, special education students can have very varied needs and learning abilities and the commonwealth’s outdated funding formula has failed to understand this, leaving some schools without the resources they need to be effective,” she said.

Some 270,000 children with disabilities are educated in Pennsylvania’s special education system. That’s one of every 6.5 students.

Pennsylvania provides about $1 billion annually to districts for special education services. Most of the special education budget, however, is derived from property taxes and other local sources.

The new formula recommended by the commission factors the low, moderate, or high needs of students who will receive state investments. It also considers community differences: poverty, property tax levels, and rural and small district conditions.

Since 1991, the commonwealth has distributed its special education line item amongst districts based on a census formula. This means money is going to schools based on a formula that includes population calculations and the assumption that 15 percent of all students have mild disabilities and 1 percent of them are severely disabled.

“I learned a long time ago that it is never good to assume, so the time is now for us to replace the census formula with our new recommendation for funding special education in Pennsylvania. This is the right thing to do for taxpayers. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do for our very special special education students,” Schwank said.

Children who are considered for special education services live with impairments like hearing or vision loss, traumatic brain injuries, learning disabilities, autism, or emotional disturbance.

“History has proven that our special education children who learn in schools with adequate resources enjoy academic achievement that at least mirrors the average academic achievement for all students,” the senator said.