Friday, May 7, 2010

Special Education Finance in U.S.

With a history of thirty five years, the special education program in U.S made a huge progress in helping more and more children with disability to get the equal study opportunity. However, in an era of floundering economy, a lot of states have made the decision to cut the educational expenditure because of the devastating budget deficit, which indicates the potential financial crisis of the special education. How to finance the special education soaring in both number and variety is a big question confronted by the policy makers.

How the special education be financed?

The financial accountability on special education is disproportionate among different level of government. On the average, states provide about 45 percent and local districts about 46 percent of the support for special education programs, with the remaining 9 percent provided through federal IDEA funding. Different states use different funding formulas because of different policy orientation and provisions. Overall, there are six funding formulas: Pupil weights, Resource-based, Percent reimbursement, Flat grant, Census-based and Variable Block Grant.

Issues with the special education finance

The greatest challenge associated with special education is the rapid increase of the cost across the nation. The expenditure has grown at twice the rate of the regular education in a lot of school districts. Overall, Special education takes up about 20 percent of overall budgets statewide. There are shortage of the funding on special education in most of the states according to the state special education scorecards. Another problem is that the federal support hasn’t increased too much. Even though the federal aid to special education has been flat for this fiscal year, it doesn’t meet the actual need of the full funding as President Obama promised before. Another major issue with special education is the need for greater flexibility in placement and use which related to the funding formulas. Other concerns are about the efficiency of special education services. Studies showed that only about 62% of the special education dollar is being used to provide direct services to students and too much is spent on administration.

New Reforms

The Mayor of New York City recently comes out of a reform plan that the principals of each school district are encouraged to take in more students with disability rather than send them to schools that have specific programs for special education and educate them with more flexibility. Several states such as California and Nevada have initiated a GATE (Funds on Gifted and Talented Education) program to encourage high-achieving and underachieving pupils in public elementary and secondary schools who have been identified as gifted and talented. Students have to pass several tests to participate into the program.


A lot of efforts should be made to meet the demand and create a more efficient system. These efforts include: transform the objectives of the special education funds, balancing criteria to meet program objectives, differentiate the severity of disability to choose the better placement for children and build up a lower cost assessment and evaluation tool.

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