Events, features and things to do for families in New Hampshire
By Bonnie Dunham, Parent Information Center on Special Education
It can be frustrating and, at times, humiliating for parents of children with disabilities when they hear comments at Town Meetings, budget hearings and other public forums about the high cost of special education. Sometimes the comments have a tone that seems to blame special education for every budget crisis. This is hurtful to the parents, and those speaking are not informed.
First, children who receive special education services do not belong to a very exclusive “club.” In New Hampshire nearly 14 percent of students receive some special education assistance. That translates to one out of every seven school children, meaning that virtually everyone has a family member, friend or neighbor who benefits from special education.
Special education makes good economic sense; it is an investment. The purpose of the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, is to provide children with disabilities with a free appropriate public education that prepares “them for further education, employment and independent living” so they will be able to be fully participating and be contributing (taxpaying) members of their communities.
The way that special education is funded makes it easy for the average citizen to believe that huge sums of local tax dollars are spent on special education, with few if any of those dollars ever being reimbursed by the federal or state government. That is just not true. When local school budgets report the cost of special education, the amounts listed are before federal and state funds are factored in; the actual local cost is far less.
For fiscal year 2011, NH received $42,791,163.75 in federal special education (IDEA entitlement) funds: $41,660,283.75 for special education plus $1,130,880 for preschool special education. Additionally, school districts have until September 2011 (including all of this current school year) to expend the $49,077,577 in ARRA funds they received in April 2009: $47,461,265 in IDEA ARRA funds for special education, plus $1,616,312 in ARRA funds for preschool special education.
More information, including the amounts individual school districts receive, may be found on the NH Department of Education’s website, Bureau of Special Education’s fiscal year numbered memorandum (FY10 Memo #37 for the IDEA entitlement awards and FY 09 Memo #37 for the IDEA ARRA allocations) at http://www.education.nh.gov/instruction/special_ed/memos.htm.
Additionally, some of the IDEA funds may be used to provide “early intervening services” to students “who are not currently identified as needing special education or related services, but who need additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in a general education environment” (§300.226 of IDEA). Those “early intervening services” can include specific types of professional development, with a focus on literacy instruction, training which can benefit the school district and all of its children.
In addition to federal funding through the IDEA, there are a number of other funding sources that reduce the cost of special education paid by the local community. These sources of funding are reflected in the school district’s budget as revenues to the city or town budget, but unfortunately they are not discussed at most meetings. A brief overview of some of these funding sources follows:
Catastrophic aid (information from FY ’10 Memo #28 and RSA 186-C:18)
w The estimated state average per pupil cost for fiscal year 2010 was established by the NH Department of Education at $12,144.38; 3½ times that cost is $42,505.33; and 10 times that cost is $121.443.80.
w That means that, with reimbursements from Cat Aid, the most a school district should pay for special education for any individual child with a disability is $58,293.02.
Medicaid to Schools (information from RSA 186-C:25 and the NH Department of Education website)
w Additionally, many children with the most significant disabilities (and likely for whom special education is costly) are also eligible for Medicaid (see RSA 186-C:25 Note: Eligibility for Medicaid may be based on family income or a child may be eligible for Medicaid regardless of the family’s income -- only the child’s income is considered -- based on the severity of the child’s disability.)
w If a child is eligible for Medicaid, the school district may, with parental written consent receive 50 percent reimbursement for eligible services. These services can include screening, evaluation and diagnostic services, nursing services, speech pathology and audiology, psychological, psychiatric and mental health services, vision services, specialized transportation, occupational and physical therapy, rehabilitative assistance and other Medicaid-covered services that are included in a child’s special education program, as well as rehabilitative assistance (i.e. one-on-one health aide) and some supplies and equipment related to the covered services.
More Financial Resources for Special Education:
w Some local school districts may have received designated funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
w The state Department of Education and local school districts may also be eligible and apply for certain private, federal or state grants whose purposes are related to special education.
w The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides funding to serve homeless students, including children with disabilities.
w School building aid may help fund the cost of special education classrooms or service provider rooms and modifications to make buildings accessible (i.e. elevators, ramps).
Please note this article is intended to be a brief overview of some of the funding resources that support special education. It is by no means a comprehensive article on school funding. There are a few additional factors of which the reader should be aware. As with every legislative session, there are several bills being considered by the legislature that would impact special education funding and school funding overall. Also, other considerations, including the number of children eligible for free or reduced cost lunches, are factors when some types of federal and state aid is calculated. Funding formulas and available resources can change; the NH Department of Education and NH State Government have websites where up-to-date information may be found. Also, you may wish to encourage your local school district to explore and apply for all available funds. For example, the Medicaid to Schools program may provide significant reimbursements to school districts – but it is the responsibility of the local school district to apply for those funds.
Bonnie Dunham has worked at the Parent Information Center on Special Education in NH for more than 25 years providing information, technical assistance and training to parents, educators and service providers. Dunham’s experience as the parent of two children who benefited from special education has given her a passion for assisting parents and educators in their role as advocates for children with disabilities.
Last updated by Morgen Thiboult Sep 12, 2011.