INCREASE SPECIAL EDUCATION CATEGORICAL AID TO SCHOOL DISTRICTS WHO ARE FUNDING A SIGNIFICANT PORTION OF SPECIAL EDUCATION COSTS FROM THEIR GENERAL FUND BUDGETS.
Under the proposal, special education categorical aid reimbursement would be increased to not less than 90 percent of prior year eligible costs and funding would be maintained each year thereafter via a sum sufficient appropriation (2022 Wisconsin Association of School Boards Resolution).
Inadequate Reimbursement Major Contributor to Inequity in School Finance
Special education reimbursements are not keeping pace with increasing aidable costs. Between 2011-12 and 2020-21, special education costs aidable under the primary special education appropriation increased by an average of 1.4% annually. By comparison, the special education aid appropriation remained flat at $369 million until 2019-20 when it increased to $385 million, as shown in Figure 1. Even with the additional appropriation increase in 2020-21, the reimbursement rate remains at only about 28%.
Figure 1 (Below). Special Education Aid, 2011-12 to 2020-21 ($ in Millions)
*Estimated Source: 505_public_instruction_categorical_aids_special_education_aids.pdf (wisconsin.gov)
School districts use general fund dollars, including equalization aid, per pupil aid, and property taxes, to fund special education costs that are not reimbursed by the state or federal government. As a result, school districts have less revenue available to spend on general educational programming. Forcing school districts to divert general funds to special education costs “has emerged as a major contributor to inequity in Wisconsin’s school finance system,” according to a 2019 Wisconsin Policy Forum issue brief.