Editorial: Funding Special Education

You know what they say..."talk is cheap."

Here's something that most people, including parents, teachers, administrators, and even researchers, can get behind: Special education should be adequately funded!

In an 11 July 2021 editorial posted to NJ.Com, a news source for the US State of New Jersey, the editorial board argued that local education agencies need back-up support from their state education agencies.

We’ve come a long way from the dark days when kids with severe disabilities were warehoused; now, we’re spending a lot of money to give them the tools to live a full life. New Jersey should be proud of that. But the flip side is the cost, Ginsburg notes – to give children the care that they need, districts require more state support.

The editors of NJ.com make important points regarding funding. I do not usually want to interpret data from individual situations (i.e., "case data") as applicable to many other individual situations, but this one seems clearly applicable. I do not think the funding problems are only occurring in New Jersey. Locally funded schools that are already operating on terrifically constrained budgets can be horribly affected by just a few special special education cases—in this New Jersey case, a family with triplets who had disabilities moved into the LEA.

Someone in our government needs to recognize that these events can occur and prepare for it. Contingencies plans. To provide the several-hundred thousand to half-million dollars that might be needed in such situations is beyond the resources of an LEA. It would tax an SEA, but a state would have a much better chance of weathering such a challenge than a locality.

Now, SEAs should not be the only ones on the hook for these eventualities. Federal governments should be the real back-up on this. Such a resource should probably be called “A Happy Day Fund” rather than one referring to rain.

Of course, some would ask if “we” can pay for it. Yes! As economist Stephanie Kelton argued (persuasively in my view) in "The Deficit Myth...," governments that have sovereign currencies can afford to meet pretty much any financial needs they agree that they have. I believe that educating children and youth—including those who have disabilities—is a societal need. In the US, we can pay for this.

Good luck with that, though. In the US, the federal government has not yet lived up to its 45-year-old promise to provide 40% of the costs of providing special education. As an action, I wonder if the suspect group of individuals with disabilities and their parents (and the many educators and related services providers concerned about them) might benefit from a march (or wheel) on Washington.

How about filling up the Mall in Washington, DC, with kids with disabilities and their parents and friends? I suspect those people could get together, as close as is feasible in these COVID times, and stretch all the way from the Lincoln Memorial (fitting spot) to the Capital steps. These people would have a reason to be there ("standing"), because Congress passed a law, but hasn't funded it.

Nice words, Congress, but (as one of my grandmothers used to say) "Talk's cheap. It takes money to buy sheep."


Editorial board. (11 July 2021). A budget milestone for NJ’s special needs kids. NJ.com. https://www.nj.com/opinion/2021/07/a-budget-milestone-for-njs-special-needs-kids-editorial.html