Special education funding challenges more Michigan school districts

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Paying for state-mandated special education programs is a challenge for Ionia County. And the problem is much the same elsewhere across the state.
To support state-mandated special education programs, Michigan’s intermediate school districts (ISD) are forced to seek revenue alternatives.
Each ISD has two basic options: use general education funds or increase property taxes. The second choice requires voter approval.
Muskegon ISD has used the general education fund to cover special education expenses because in 1989, a proposed tax increase was defeated, said Jim Redder, director of special education.
The schools need to reduce the expenses, if revenue can’t be increased, he said.
The Allegan ISD received half of its money from the general education fund, said Wally Gunderson, superintendent of special education.
Michigan’s education chief blames the federal government for the funding shortage of funds.
“The federal government promised to fund 40 percent of the cost for the special education programs,” said Tom Watkins, state superintendent of public instruction, in a Capital News Service interview.
“It never came close to that,” said Scott Hubble, assistant superintendent for special education at Ionia County ISD.
Hubble called the lack of financial support from the federal government “the mother of all not-funded mandates.”
In 1997, then-President Clinton signed the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law that regulates what programs are required and how they’re paid for. The federal special education budget is $7.5 billion, which covers more than 10 percent of all special education expenses, said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education.
IDEA is up for congressional reauthorization for the next year, said Kirk Johnson, director of education policy for the Midland-based Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
“It may mandate that 40 percent be covered by the federal government,” said Johnson. If IDEA and special education programs are fully funded by the federal government, it will take the pressure off the local school districts.
Special education programs deal with students with mental or physical disabilities or both.
Funding for required special education programs comes in partnerships between local, state and federal government. The federal government covers 11 or 12 percent of the expenses while state funds 28 percent. Local millage, local district funds and Medicaid cover the remaining 60 percent.
“Some disabilities are very costly,” Gunderson said. “They cross the line between education and medical services.”
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism

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