Pa. Special Ed. panel recommends more funding predictability for schools | Thursday Morning Coffee

‘These recommendations provide more clarity and consistency for school districts regarding its projected special education costs in planning yearly budgets,’ Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said

December 16, 2021 7:07 am
Teacher and students in a classroom.

(Getty Images)

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

A special commission charged with fixing how Pennsylvania pays for special education for tens of thousands of students statewide released a report Thursday recommending a raft of changes that it says will provide more predictability and consistency for the state’s 500 school districts.

Advocates have long complained that the commonwealth has ignored skyrocketing costs for school districts, with districts boosting their special education spending by $2 billion between 2009 to 2019. But state aid during that same period grew by just $110 million, according to a 2020 report by the Education Law Center and PA Schools Work.

The 2021-22 state budget sets aside $1.2 billion for special education funding, according to state Department of Education data. That’s a $50 million, or 4.2 increase, over the prior year.

In 2019, a joint analysis by the Education Law Center and Research for Action, a policy research group in Philadelphia, concluded that the state’s current 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 an annual funding increase of $100 million a year or more to keep pace with rising costs.

(Image via

The panel’s recommendations build on those already offered by the state’s first special education funding commission in 2013, the panel’s co-chair, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairperson Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said in a statement.

The panel’s findings “provide more clarity and consistency for school districts regarding its projected special education costs in planning yearly budgets,” Browne continued. “These recommendations continue to consider the actual number of students needing specialized education services and refine how the actual needs of each student can be addressed.”

Among other things, the commission recommended that the Education Department “[provide] greater transparency by posting the special education contingency fund awards on [its] publicly accessible website.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, “has been especially difficult for our special education students and has resulted in more students being identified,” the panel’s co-chair, House Education Committee Chairperson Curt Sonney, R-Erie, said. “The commission’s recommended changes will help to ensure that funds are distributed in a more equitable manner to provide more stability and transparency.”

For activists and advocates, the only way the state has to go is up.

“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 when the group released its report last December.

“For special education, the portion covered by the state is now only 22 percent, down from 32 percent a decade ago,” she continued. “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.”

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
As the Pennsylvania General Assembly finished off its last week of lawmaking of 2021, the specter of a key vote on Thursday — one entirely outside of its control — loomed over their debatesStephen Caruso explains what’s at stake.

A legislative subpoena issued as part of a taxpayer-funded election investigation — specifically its request for the personal information of 9 million Pennsylvania voters — went before Commonwealth Court Wednesday, with arguments surrounding its purpose and intra-governmental sharing of information. Marley Parish has the story.

Amid a national debate about school history curricula, a bill mandating schools post their course materials online is heading to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk after it passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly this week, Marley Parish and Stephen Caruso report. Wolf opposes the bill, which has been described as a stealth attack on the teaching of critical race theory in the classroom.

A Pennsylvania House panel advanced a modified version of a citizen-drawn congressional map submitted to lawmakers this fall ahead of legislators’ Christmas recess, Stephen Caruso also reports.

Broadband companies will have access to tens of millions of dollars in federal aid dollars to build new or expand old internet infrastructure under a bill the Pennsylvania General Assembly unanimously approved this week, Stephen Caruso further reports.

State officials have sent a second vague email to patients about medical marijuana vape product safety, Correspondent Kim Lyons reports.

Needs for the hungry remain high in Fayette County. In today’s edition of Helping the Helpers, our partners at the Uniontown Herald-Standard explain how one group is lending a helping hand.

Our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News talk to the new president and CEO of the Philadelphia-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, the Mazzoni Center.

As the U.S. House passed an anti-Islamophobia bill on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th Districtcalled its sponsorU.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., ‘anti-Semitic,’ Capital-Star Washington Reporter Jacob Fischler writes.

The day after a shooting outside his Philadelphia district office, Democratic state Sen. Sharif Street says he hopes the incident will lend urgency to gun violence prevention efforts in the General Assembly, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.

On our Commentary Page this morning: Columnist Max McCoy, of our sibling site, the Kansas Reflector, puts out a call to rebuild the nation’s ‘civic infrastructure.’ And a coalition of 17 service providers to people living with intellectual disabilities accuse the Wolf administration of failing to halt the collapse of their industry. 

(Flickr/Matthias Müller)

The Inquirer looks at the epidemic of wrongful convictions in Pennsylvania’s judicial system.

With hospitals overflowing, a Westmoreland County lawmaker is offering her constituents help in obtaining vaccine exemptions, the Tribune-Review reports.

The pandemic has pushed hospital costs above $100,000 for many Pennsylvanians, PennLive reports.

PennDOT has rolled out its plans for improvements to Route 30 in Lancaster, LancasterOnline reports.

York County residents are facing their first tax hike since 2017, the York Dispatch reports.

Lehigh County has moved a step closer to forming its own health department, the Morning Call reports.

The former head of Luzerne County’s Children & Youth Office has gotten house arrest for child endangerment, the Citizens’ Voice reports (paywall).

Philadelphia’s health commissioner is urging against holiday gatherings amidst a surge in infections, WHYY-FM reports.

The commonwealth has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help in dealing with the surge in infections, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).

Snowy owls have been spotted at Presque Isle State Park in Erie — but don’t get too close, GoErie reports.

Momentum is growing in the U.S. Senate on voting rightsRoll Call reports.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
9 a.m., Live Stream: Local Government Commission
1 p.m., Hearing Room 1, North Office Building: Legislative Reapportionment Commission

Gov. Tom Wolf heads to NEPA for a pair of events in Lackawanna County. At 11:15 a.m., he’ll do a presser at the county courthouse calling for a minimum wage hike and other plans to support workers. At 1:30 p.m., he’ll plug $12 million in state funding for the county.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Alexandra D’Angola Fetzko, of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s a rollicking one from Elvis Costello & the Imposters to get your Thursday rolling. It’s ‘Magnificent Hurt.’

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin tied the NHL’s all-time power-play goal record on Wednesday night. But it wasn’t enough to get the Caps past Chicago, who prevailed 5-4 in overtime.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.