Educators say that the number of students with special needs has increased in Pennsylvania, and so has the need for funding.
Pennsylvania's Special Education Funding Commission was created by Act 3 of 2012. After a series of meetings in 2013, the commission developed a funding formula that gave schools districts deemed to have the greatest need additional dollars.
The commission has been reconstituted to review the formula. The 15-member committee consists of senators, representatives and members of the Wolf administration, including Education Secretary Pedro Rivera.
Special education has changed since the first funding formula was created, and more children need services, panelists said at a meeting last week in the Manheim Township School District.
“Statewide data shows that we have seen a 12 percent increase of students with emotional disturbances, a 34 percent increase in students with autism and a 47 percent increase in students with other health impairments,” said Michelle Reichard-Huff, director of early childhood and student services for the Berks County Intermediate Unit.
Special education students often need services that include speech therapy, behavioral therapy, an individual aide for each student and transportation services, the Commission was told.
Theresa Kreider, director of special services for the Penn Manor School District, outlined the costs for three special students that ranged from $105,718 annually to $18,420.
“It’s important to know that neither Michael or Mary is the highest cost student in Penn Manor,” Kreider said. “And neither student qualified us to receive contingency funding support.”
Gifted education also falls under special education and lacks funding to train teachers and offer services to those students, said Kali Fedor, president of the Pennsylvania Association for Gifted Education.
“We need to look at how can we get more funding into education in general so we can also get funding for special education and gifted,” Fedor told the panel.
Other panelists agreed that more money was needed.
“We need an adequate funding plan for moving forward,” said Jill Hackman, executive director of the Berks County Intermediate Unit. “We’re appreciative of the $50 million additional dollars that the state Legislature committed to special education, but it's not enough.”
The commission, which also met in Lehigh County on Oct. 8, will draft a report and submit it to the General Assembly by Nov. 30.