What I found most noteworthy is how little we know, on a national basis, about how much is spent on special education and what connection any of that spending has to student outcomes. There were a series of reports that came out in the early 2000s on special education funding, and they can be found at the website of the Center for Special Education Finance/Special Education Expenditure Project. But all those reports were based on figures collected during the 1999-2000 school year. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know how the state of special education funding has changed since then?
After relatively flat enrollment through the end of the 2000s, public K-12 enrollment started to tick up again in 2014, according to the National Center for Education Statistics’ Digest of Education Statistics, 2014, the 50th in the series of annual and biennial reports compiling education data.
Because of the way the state funds schools, it can be especially tough when small schools lose students. Enrollment in Macon County schools remains higher than it was 10 or 12 years ago, but the district has lost some students to neighboring charter schools, according to Chris Baldwin, superintendent of Macon County Schools.
By 2015, “overload” pay shot up to $1.8 million – roughly 22 times as much as in 2011. School officials say it’s the result of a significant increase in overload pay written into the most recent union contract, negotiated in 2014, coupled with enrollment increases and difficulty filling some positions.
Nonetheless, Orleans Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. backed the proposal firmly, voting yes and issuing a joint statement with Recovery Superintendent Patrick Dobard. They said it was a matter not of school versus school or Recovery versus Orleans, but of ensuring basic fairness in how the city’s main stream of education money flows to children.
Any fair and equitable school system should have a funding policy that matches the financial resources each school receives to the specific needs of the students they are serving. But fully a quarter of our city’s charter schools receive the same flat funding amount regardless of the needs of the students with disabilities that they serve.
Senate Budget Chairman Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said during the meeting there needs to be more discussion in the Legislature about how enrollment growth is funded to account for fixed costs that aren’t directly affected. “I fully intend to fund it,” Hillyard said in an interview, noting public education needs are adding up quickly. “But we have to find a different way of looking at it.”
While the financial woes are a result of a confluence of circumstances, analysts say one culprit stands above the rest. “Pensions are one of the most untold stories of why this is happening,” says Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, an education policy organization in Washington. “These are big dollar amounts at play that people haven’t conceptualized.” According to the Federal Reserve, employee pensions across state and local governments are underfunded to the tune of $1.7 trillion.
What policymakers and others have failed to ask is how well the current pension system is serving its workers, particularly teachers. While many assume that the current problems lie solely in the state’s failure to properly manage its finances, few consider the design of the current plan and the impact it has on teachers. This report concludes that by adopting an alternative retirement plan for teachers, the state could improve its financial situation and provide better benefits for teachers.
As of September 2015 pension costs were $1,085 per pupil. The reasons for the dramatic rise in pension costs for school employees vary from state to state, but the main cause is payments to amortize the enormous unfunded liabilities that have come to exist as states and districts have deferred payments on benefits they have promised to their teachers and other employees.