There was a big surprise in today’s meeting of the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Education at Midway College.
We’ve heard plenty about how the federal government pays lots of money to support services for public school students who need special education. We also know the federal government has passed complex and expensive mandates on what those special education services must include. And, Kentucky is a poor state. So, a lot of you probably think the feds put up most of the special education money – well, guess again.
At today’s meeting the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability (OEA) reported that Kentuckians pay the lion’s share of the state’s special education costs with their state and local taxes – about 74 percent of the total costs, in fact. The graph below tells the tale.
[Graph source: “Review of Kentucky Special Education,” a handout from the Kentucky Office of Education Accountability, July 13, 2009. I added the color annotations after discussing the federal versus state/local dollar sources with the lead OEA briefer, Deborah Nelson.]
Given the total special education price tag of $539,366,526, we are talking about some serious money here. Based on the percentages in the figure, Kentucky residents put up almost $400 million of that in state and local taxes (which does not count the part of our taxes sent to Washington that come back in the federal contribution shown above).
So, if you think we are educating these kids at some out-of-state folks’ expense, forget it. It’s largely your dime.
Now, here’s what really makes this serious.
The OEA briefing provided evidence that our schools may be over-identifying kids needing these special services. That really riveted legislator attention.
I checked a few numbers after the meeting and found that the Kentucky Department of Education reported there were 109,354 students in special education as of December 2006. Thus, the average cost per child in special education in the state is around $4,932.
If we can cut our special education population by just one percent, the annual savings would be well over $5 million.
Actually, the OEA presented other information in the meeting that indicates we might be over-identifying students at more than a one percent rate. In fact, our current funding formulas might be encouraging schools to over-identify special education students.
More on this later, so stay tuned!