Over the past week and a half I posted several items about special education in Kentucky, including:
Now, let’s look at how the money doesn’t always go where it is needed.
The graph below was presented to the Kentucky legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education’s “road show meeting” at Midway College on July 13, 2009.
This graph shows the ratio of special education expenditures to the state and federal special education revenues the school districts in Kentucky received. Data for Fiscal Years 2003 to 2007 are included.
The graph does not show data for individual districts. Instead, the graph divides the districts into five separate groups, or quintiles, according to the assessed private property values in each district. Information for the group of districts with the lowest 20 percent of property wealth, the first quintile, is shown by the first set of bars on the left of the graph. The data for the state’s wealthiest districts, the fifth wealth quintile, are shown by the set of bars on the far right.
An important feature of the graph is the horizontal red line, marked as the “Expenditures = Revenues” line. If a ratio bar for a given year falls below the line, then the related group of districts received more money for special education students than they actually spend on special education services. On the other hand, districts that received inadequate funding from state and federal sources had to make up the difference in local tax dollars and the bar extends above the red “Expenditures = Revenues” line.
Several things are apparent in the graph. First of all, the costs of special education are growing everywhere. According to page 104 in the companion report to the slide presentation revenue for special education in Kentucky grew from $408 million in FY 2003 to $539 million by FY 2007, which is a 32 percent jump.
Perhaps even more important, the graph above makes it clear that the revenues are not being distributed properly. Poor wealth districts get more than they need while wealthy districts are being underfunded.
That creates unsatisfactory temptations. Once a district gets its special education funding from the state and the federal government, if the money isn’t all spent on special education services, there is no requirement to return the surplus. Thus, Kentucky’s poor wealth districts actually get a “profit center” effect from their special education programs, while special education students in the wealthy districts are an extra cost burden for local taxpayers.
Worse, money that should be fenced to support special education students winds up in the general fund of Kentucky’s poorest districts instead. As such, this money acts as a stimulus for the low wealth schools to label even more kids as disabled when the truth may be that these kids are just being badly served in regular classrooms.
It’s a bad system; one that excessively burdens taxpayers with a bait and switch ploy while tending to overload schools with kids who are identified as disabled. That, in turn tends to reduce the real assistance given to kids that really are learning disabled, which drags the entire process down.