It’s no secret that educating K-12 students who qualify for special education services costs more than educating students without disabilities. The state recognizes that: It gives school districts twice as much money per student for special education students than it does for those without disabilities.
The problem is the state shortchanges districts on that funding. That policy can’t but hurt other students in the process.
The state caps the percentage of students who will get the extra funding at 11% of the students per district. And some districts have more students who they say needs the funding but don’t get it.
The origins of the issue go back to the early 1990s.
Oregon lawmakers decided to cap what’s spent on special education not long after Ballot Measure 5, the property tax limit, was approved in 1990. Worried that districts would rush to qualify anyone they could for the extra special ed money, they approved a bill that provides special education dollars for 11% of students.
Where is the evidence that districts have tried to artificially bump up their numbers? We haven’t seen it.
About 14% of Oregon students qualify for special education services, though they’re not evenly distributed among school districts. More students on the autism spectrum are being identified for services, as are more students with mental health and other problems. Locally, Bend-La Pine Schools have about 10% of students that qualify.
The bottom line is some local districts must close the gap between what the Legislature allocates and what districts must pay.
State Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, has sponsored bills that would have increased state special ed caps to 13% of a district’s students from the current 11%. They have failed to gain traction.
The caps hurt. And even as the Legislature established a tax on business sales this session that could raise $1 billion a year for schools, it declined to expand those caps.