Pa. panel tackles special-education funding formula

    A commission tasked with changing Pennsylvania’s special-education funding model has had its inaugural hearing.

    Education professionals are calling on state lawmakers to keep additional requirements on schools to a minimum as they address the formula seen by many as a drain on resources.

    However, the panel can’t do anything about the fact that state spending on special education has been frozen for several years. But what education professionals hope for is some way to tie what they get in funding to what they actually provide in services.

    Laura Cowburn handles the books for Columbia Borough School District in Lancaster County.

    She says the special-education population in her district has grown to exceed what the formula covers, but her district is limited in the tax revenue it can generate.

    And Cowburn tells lawmakers that her district — with its urban, low-income, transient population — is hardly unique.

    “Every one of you have a Columbia story and they’re all throughout the state and they’re all getting into this financial abyss,” she said.

    Cowburn said districts such as hers get hit a second time when they make payments to charter schools that enroll special-needs students.

    Those payments are based on the school district’s budget — not on the actual costs of educating the child.

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