By CRISTINA JANNEY
The state of Kansas is underfunding special education, and that is putting more pressure on local special education cooperatives, including the one that serves Hays, to come up with more money to fill the gap.
Kyle Carlin, director of West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative, gave a report to the Hays USD 489 school board at its meeting Monday on how the shortfall affects the local cooperative's budget.
The local cooperative includes Hays, Ellis, Victoria, La Crosse and will soon include Russell. The cooperative also covers the private schools in those districts.
Special education is funded with a combination of federal state and local funds. State statute calls for the state to pay 92 percent of the cost of special education beyond what the federal government pays.
There is no enforcement clause in that statute, so the Kansas Legislature has chosen to underfund special education since 2010, Carlin said.
This year the Legislature funded special education across the state at 70.8 percent of the excess cost of federal funding.
The state would need to spend an additional $155 million to fully fund its special education obligations. That would be an additional $1.5 million annually for the West Central Kansas Special Education Cooperative — the equivalent of 22 teaching positions in the member districts.
The gap is likely to increase if the trend continues, as the state is increasing funding by about 1 percent per year, but costs are increasing by about 5 percent per year, Carlin said.
The state has been shoring up special education funding with federal COVID relief funds. Those funds will no longer be available for the next fiscal year, Carlin said.
The Kansas Board of Education is recommending to the Legislature a phased approach to fully funding special education. The plan would increase special education funding by $77 million per year for five years.
This would mean $750,000 in additional funds for the local cooperation per year for a total of $11 million by 2028.
Carlin said the cooperative's funding is stable today, but it won't remain so in the coming three years unless the local districts increase their financial contributions.
“It is really important as a state that we get something figured out, because otherwise, it's going to be pretty drastic," Carlin said.
He urged board members to contact local legislators and those running for office and request they support the special education funding increase.
Board President Craig Pallister said the special education funding gap affects all students because it requires local school districts to divert money from their general funds to pay for special education. More funding left in the general fund could mean smaller class sizes or more class offerings, he said.
"We are the advocates for our kids. We need to make sure the state is doing what is good for kids, and they have not been," Pallister said.
Cover photo provided by Pixabay.