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Publish Date: 9/30/2005

Lawmakers study special-education expenses
Legislator wants more equitable distribution of funds

DENVER — A legislative panel is looking into ways to reduce school districts’ expenses of educating severely disabled children.

Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Keith King told colleagues on the Interim Committee on School Finance this week that he’d like to see a more equitable distribution of the nearly $90 million the state is spending on special-education costs.

The state’s share of 2005-06 special-education funding amounts to an average of $1,082 per student, based on the 82,898 special-education students enrolled in Colorado public schools as of last December.

The formula for distributing that money is based in part on how many special-education students each district had in proportion to the statewide total of special-education children in 1994-95.

Under the current distribution formula, the St. Vrain Valley School District, which had 1,901 special-education students as of last December, stands to get more than $1.98 million in state funds to help pay for it’s services for disabled students in 2005-06, according to the Legislature’s staff.

King said lawmakers could abandon the 1994-era portion of the funding calculation and base future allocations on how the number of special-education students enrolled in each district.

That could mean less money for some school districts and more for others.

For St. Vrain, that could increase the district’s 2005-06 state special-education funding by $70,792, to nearly $2.06 million.

Several School Finance Committee members, however, noted that even with such a change, special education would still be underfunded by the state and federal governments.

School officials have complained their districts now have to cover as much as 70 percent or more of those costs themselves.

One possibility, some lawmakers said, would be to award state special-education funds on the basis of the severity of each student’s disability.

King also noted that some districts also have higher expenses when they have to pay to place disabled students in residential treatment facilities outside their boundaries.

King said he especially wants to help out smaller school districts with such “uncontrollable expenses.”

He cited the Thompson district, which has appealed a Colorado Department of Education hearing officer’s order that it pay $130,000 a year for 10-year-old Luke Perkins of Berthoud to attend a private residential school for autistic children in Boston.

King said the state could set aside $10 million of the state’s $90 million in special-education funding to establish an insurance pool that local districts could use to help pay for services for their most expensive such students.

School Finance Committee members raised a number of questions about that idea, including whether school districts should be expected to contribute to an insurance pool, how much they would pay and how the money would be distributed.

The committee may revisit the issue Oct. 18, when it decides what proposals for new laws to forward to consideration by the full Legislature in 2006.

King said he’s not married to any specific idea for improving the state’s system of special-education funding.

He warned, however, that “probably the solution is going to be elusive no matter what we do ... and costly.”

John Fryar can be reached by e-mail at jfryar@times-call.com.

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