Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
Even as many Pennsylvania school districts struggled to tame rising pension costs and deal with stagnant tax revenues, the state also saddled them with shouldering the rising cost of educating students living with disabilities — without giving them the financial assistance to handle it, a new report concludes.
The state’s 501 school districts boosted their special education spending by $2 billion between 2009 to 2019, but state aid during that same period grew by just $110 million, the report by the Education Law Center and PA Schools Work, concludes, citing the most recent state data.
According to the report, out of new dollars spent on special education over the last decade, school districts have provided 92 cents of that total, the analysis found.
“Pennsylvania has been a bottom-dweller nationally for what a low share of overall public education spending the state provides – just 38 percent,” Education Law Center Executive Director Deborah Gordon Klehr said in a statement. “For special education, the portion covered by the state is now only 22 percent, down from 32 percent a decade ago. When the state abdicates responsibility like this, students are harmed, especially in our lowest-wealth school districts that have the greatest difficulty generating more revenue to meet student needs.”
The recently approved state budget includes more than $1.1 billion in funding for special education programs. Because of the pandemic, the line item is funded at the same level as it was in the 2019-20 fiscal year.
Advocates have complained for years that the state is underfunding special education, and have called on the state to update its funding formula to provide a more level playing field for students with special needs.
In 2019, a joint analysis by the Education Law Center and Research for Action, a policy research group in Philadelphia, concluded that the formula “does not accurately account for district poverty. As a result, state special education funding does not fulfill its intended purpose of addressing funding disparities resulting from differences in local wealth.”
Analysts argued that the state needed annual funding increase of $100 million a year or more to keep pace with rising costs.
A state commission tasked with studying the issue spent the autumn of 2019 traveling the state, taking testimony, so that it could return recommendations to lawmakers, the Capital-Star’s Elizabeth Hardison reported at the time.
Statewide, 307,000 students receive special education services, that’s nearly 18 percent of the total public school enrollment, the new analysis found.
The report found that:
- “Between 2008–09 and 2018-19, the share of special education costs covered by local districts grew from 62 percent to 73 percent.
- “In the same period, the much smaller share of costs covered by state special education funding shrank from 32 percent to 22 percent,” researchers found.
As a result, over the course of a decade, the state’s share of funding has been dropping by 1 percentage point a year, the analysis found.
“While comparable data are not yet available for the last school year or the current one, we can project that with the rapid growth in total special education costs, even the state’s unprecedented $50 million increase in special education funding for 2019-2020 was insufficient to reverse this trend,” researchers concluded. “Statewide special education costs are growing by $200 million to $250 million per year. Yet the state flat-funded special education in the 2020-21 budget.”
One election is hardly over, and state lawmakers already are floating plans to change election law ahead of the next one. Some are more pernicious than others. Stephen Caruso runs down the catalogue of bills.
Our Helping the Helpers series, in cooperation with the Uniontown Herald-Standard, continues this morning, with a look at the very noble efforts a Fayette County shelter is making to connect cats and dogs with new homes.
A U.S. Centers for Disease Control panel has advised states to prioritize health care workers and nursing home workers for the upcoming COVID-19 vaccines, Washington Reporter Laura Olson writes.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, has been honored for his advocacy work on behalf of the state’s LGBTQ citizens, winning the prestigious Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.
The marketing organization Visit Philly is spearheading an effort to support the growth of Black and Brown businesses in Philadelphia, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.
On our Commentary Page this morning, Harrisburg attorney Spero Lappas examines the question of whether President Donald Trump can actually pardon himself. And David Lapp and Mark Duffy, of the Philadelphia research organization Research for Action, say school districts such as Philadelphia shouldn’t have to rely on charitable hand-outs to make sure students can attend class safely.
Schools with large COVID-19 caseloads could be forced to close on short-notice under new state rules, the Inquirer reports.
State Treasurer Joe Torsella’s office says it can fund road and bridge work through June, the Post-Gazette reports (paywall).
Hospitals are starting to cancel elective surgeries and adding ICU beds, PennLive reports (paywall).
Several nursing homes in Luzerne County are still failing to report COVID-19 data to the state, the Citizens-Voice reports.
The Morning Call has what you need to know about Allentown’s 2021 budget and the city’s financial outlook.
Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:
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State Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak is asking the U.S. Senate to extend expanded unemployment benefits which are set to expire this month, WHYY-FM reports.
Incoming Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, has acknowledged that ‘mistakes were made’ at a maskless hearing in Gettysburg last week, Spotlight PA reports (via WITF-FM).
Transgender pioneer Tyler Titus has been tapped to lead Erie’s school board, GoErie reports.
Federal unemployment benefits are weeks late in nearly every state. Pennsylvania is wrestling with processing times, Stateline.org reports.
Democrats on Capitol Hill are trying to revive stimulus talks, NYMag’s Intelligencer reports.What Goes On.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission meets at 10 a.m. this morning at 333 Market St. in Harrisburg. A number of proposed regs are on the agenda.
You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to regular reader Joe Sprott, down in Washington D.C, and to our Canadian colleague, Abby Kuathasan, of CTV NewsChannel, both of whom celebrate today. Congrats and enjoy the day, friends.
Here’s a dreamy slice of pop from Winnetka Bowling League. It’s ‘Congratulations.’ For what? Well, you’ll have to listen to find out.
Thursday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
Paris St. Germain romped past an uncharacteristically flat-footed Manchester United 3-1 in Champions League play on Tuesday. PSG’s Neymar doubled on the way to the win.
And now you’re up to date.