Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Full Funding

The National Governor's Association (NGA) has called for Congress to fully fund special education. Despite the President's Commission on Special Education’s recent report that points out that the 40 percent funding commitment from the federal government was an arbitrary percentage of special education funding. "There is no scientific or particular public policy basis for defining full funding of the federal portion of special education at 40 percent of average per-pupil expenditure," the commission found. According to the commission's executive director Tom Jones, "It is an arbitrary number that is a proxy for the excess cost of special education, (but it) is no more related to average per-pupil expenditure than it is to the proportion of children named Fred."

What the president’s commission really wants states to do is evaluate their true special education costs. The commission wants special education funding increases to be tied to increased accountability and positive outcomes for special education students.

Unfortunately, rethinking special education funding has been roundly denounced from all corners. From the NGA to both houses of Congress, it appears that "full-funding" of IDEA is a done deal.

The Senate plan calls for a 2.5 billion annual increase in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act appropriations, resulting in full funding - or 40 percent of the excess costs of educating special needs children - in six years. The House Republican plan calls for full funding of IDEA in 10 years, including annual increases of just over 1 billion through FY07.

Even the teachers' unions are calling Republican support for full-funding a break through.

My prediction: More federal money will not lead to individual schools actually having more of their special education costs covered--those costs will continue to grow. Instead, more funding will continue to drive special-education over-identification as the financial incentive to expand special-ed grows by a guaranteed amount every year. Incentives matter. And large predictable funding increases will be a huge incentive for growth.

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