The Hillsboro School District was one of 138 across the state which received high-cost special education aid payments earlier this month to reimburse a portion of the costs associated with the education of children whose educational needs exceed $30,000 per student.
Hillsboro received a $10,338 payment from the state.
The aid paid to Hillsboro and 137 other school districts, as well as two cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs), and three county children with disabilities education boards (CCDEBs) totaled $5,732,590 and covered just 46.2 percent of eligible costs for 1,052 students. Local education agency (LEA) requests for reimbursement, based on costs from the prior school year, amounted to $13,780,975. Aid is calculated on 90 percent of eligible claims for direct services to individual students not covered by other state and federal special education funding. The aid is paid each year on the third Monday in June, which this year fell on June 15.
High-cost special education aid this year is made up of $3.5 million in state funding and $2.2 million in federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) discretionary funds that State Superintendent Tony Evers allocated to this purpose.
In his 2015-17 state budget, Republican Gov. Scott Walker denied the department’s request to fully fund high-cost special education aid and to reimburse 100 percent of costs. The Joint Committee on Finance adopted a motion to increase aid by $5 million in the second year of the biennium. This will be the first increase in state support for high-cost special education aid since 2006-07.
“The budget being considered by the Legislature will provide some well overdue support to the high-cost special education aid program,” Evers said. “The free appropriate public education every child is entitled to receive can put a strain on local district budgets, especially when a child has extraordinary educational needs. As general aid and per student revenue caps fail to keep pace with inflationary costs such as electricity, transportation, and heat in the winter, the tension between regular education and special education student needs increases in a way that no educator or parent wants. It’s simply not fair to our kids to keep short-changing their education.”
Even with a proposed increase to high-cost special education aid, according to an Education Commission of the States (ECS) analysis, Wisconsin lags other states that pay special education costs through a reimbursement funding mechanism. The ECS analysis shows a range of reimbursement rates from 100 percent in Wyoming to Wisconsin’s low of 26.8 percent, with an average among the states using the reimbursement funding mechanism of about 53 percent. Wisconsin’s categorical special education aid has been frozen at $368.9 million since the 2008-09 school year, and no increase is proposed for the 2015-17 budget. Students with disabilities make up about 13.5 percent of the state’s public school enrollment.