Special education funding in Colorado would get permanent boost under bipartisan bill

The bipartisan bill, which passed its first test in committee on Wednesday, will forever change the way the state funds special education.

Colorado has never paid school districts the full amount needed to serve students with disabilities, according to a model developed in 2006 that has never been adjusted for inflation.

Senate Bill 22-127, authored by Sen. Barbara Kirkmaier, a Republican from Brighton, and Rachel Censinger, a Democrat from Arvada, would increase the amount per student for all students with disabilities to $ 1,750 in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and requires this to grow at the rate of inflation in the coming years. What is known as the Level A state model of special education funding now includes $ 1,250 for each child with a disability that was calculated during the previous school year. This amount per student has not changed since 2006. Raising it to $ 1,750 per student would cost the state $ 53 million.


The bill will also increase the amount of government spending on students with more significant needs by $ 40 million and tie this part of the funding model, known as level B, to inflation.

Level B provides an additional amount per student for students who have multiple disabilities as well as those who have certain conditions that require more specialized care, such as severe emotional deficiencies, blindness, or deafness. State law allows for up to $ 6,000 per level B student, but the actual amount the state spends depends on how much lawmakers choose to allocate to special education in a given year. This is the part of the funding model that the state has never paid for in full.

Last year, state lawmakers spent $ 63.3 million on students with multiple disabilities or disabilities requiring more specialized care, which was $ 2,629 for each level B student. dollars per B-level student.

This means that this year the legislature funded 56.5% of the cost of $ 6,000 per B-level student – the most – compared to 43% the previous year. The rest of the costs are borne by local counties, which under federal law are required to accept students with special needs. Proponents of SB-127 say the $ 40 million infusion will cover about 85% of the allowable amount per Tier B student, which will significantly reduce that burden.

This bill is a positive step to help local school districts pay for special education programs.

– Tamara Durbin, Executive Director of BOCES Northeast Colorado

Kirkmeier acknowledged that the SB-127 will come with a “huge” price tag. “It was our duty, and we haven’t done it in 16 years,” she told the Senate Education Committee.

Tamara Durbin, executive director of BOCES Northeast Colorado, recalled how a small rural school run by her Board of Cooperative Education Services had to combine kindergarten and first grade to have enough money to hire a full-time special education teacher.

“This bill is a positive step towards helping local school districts pay for special education programs,” Durbin told the committee.

Even if the state decides to pay a full $ 6,000 for a Tier B student, experts and politicians agree that the amount determined in 2006 would not be enough to meet their needs. The exact cost of special education may vary depending on the student’s disability and their geographical location.

SB-127 instructs the State Fiscal Advisory Committee on Special Education to analyze the available information and submit a legislative report on the actual costs of providing special education services to children with disabilities. The advisory committee’s report should also include an analysis of special education funding in other states compared to Colorado.

The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved SB-127 on Wednesday, and the bill is now being sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. The bill is sponsored by House of Representatives Colin Larsson, a Republican from Littleton, and Julie McCluskey, a Democrat from Dylan.

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