Norwin superintendent pushes for special education funding reform
Norwin Superintendent William Kerr hopes he, and a group of educators from across the state, can help reform special education funding in Pennsylvania.
Kerr and three other educators presented a plan for funding special education to several local legislators, including state Rep. George Dunbar (R-56) and state Sen. Kim Ward (R-39) as the final part of a one-year fellowship at the Pennsylvania Education Policy and Leadership Center.
“The fellowship is a year-long professional development experience, which gave me a chance to network with educators in both higher and basic education and some nonprofit leaders,” Kerr said. “It reinforced that strong leadership is essential for advocating for fair and equitable resources in public education.”
Kerr said his group, which included Yough superintendent Janet Sardon, Eric Holtzman, business director for the Tuscarora School District, and Brent Kessler, business manager for Central York School District, chose to address special education funding.
The state has provided $1 billion for special education each year, for the last five years, Kerr said. His group estimated the state funding covers about 46 percent of district's special education funding needs, leaving local taxpayers to foot 54 percent of the bill.
It costs about $1,947 to educate one special education student, which is about 2.3 times more than it costs to educate a non-special education student, he added.
“Local district expenditures far exceed the revenues from the state and federal government for the operation of programs and services for students with disabilities,” Kerr said.
Kerr's group suggested state officials increase special education funding to meet the rate of inflation, and create a contingency fund, which would increase based on need.
They also suggested removing the special education exception under Act 1, which allows districts to raise taxes above the Department of Education's millage index.
The Department of Education's millage index limits how much a district can raise the tax rate each year without having to get permission via a judge or voter referendum. The special education exception allows districts to exceed the millage index to help cover special education increases, according to the Pennsylvania State Education Association website.
Kerr said the goal is not to raise taxes above the index for special education programs. Instead, they proposed to use the district's index rate to help determine its increase in state funding for special education programming, and provide a predictable annual funding increase, he said.
Although the group presented its suggestions to members of the state House, Kerr said the House Special Education Funding Commission is working on a revised special education funding formula.
“State funding for special education is currently distributed based on an estimate that the average daily enrollment of each district includes 16 percent of students with special education needs,” state Rep. Bernie O'Neill (R-29) wrote in a memorandum attached to House Bill 704, which established the commission.
“These funds can be partially augmented by the contingency fund for students with extraordinary expenses; however, there is nothing in place to assist schools that continually struggle with higher special education costs.”
The commission plans to establish a formula to distribute state funding for special education based upon individual district needs, wrote O'Neill, the bill's prime sponsor.
Although Kerr and his group have not been called upon, he said he would be willing to present his findings to the House, if necessary.
“We're anxious to see what the commission will present,” Kerr said.
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Viewing, funeral set for Irwin Mayor Dan Rose
- TV crew picks Monroeville park over Braddock’s Trail Park
- Norwin to take long-range look at maintaining athletic fields
- North Huntingdon to spend more than $1M on roads
- Irwin Council hires solicitor, fails to choose backup
- Norwin policy aims to limit wear and tear on turf