CT Voices Report on state's Methods of Funding and Delivering Special Education SErvices
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 15, 2021
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Connecticut’s Methods of Funding and Delivering Special Education Services are Insufficient, Ineffective, and Inequitable—State should Seize Opportunity to Improve Systems and Make them More Sustainable
Remediating learning loss for SPED students will cost state an estimated minimum of $1.7 billion over the next five years
New Haven, Connecticut (November 15, 2021) – Connecticut Voices for Children (CT Voices) today released a report, “Reimagining Connecticut’s Special Education Systems for a Post-Pandemic Future,” which examines Connecticut’s special education systems and discovered Connecticut’s methods of funding and delivering special education services are insufficient, ineffective, and inequitable. Additionally, the report explores the loss of learning experienced by special education (SPED) students due to the COVID-19 pandemic and outlines policies policymakers can implement to build a more effective and equitable education system. “While the pandemic has exacerbated inequities across the board, this period has contributed to an even more significant resource and learning gap for SPED students. This is in large part due to the funding for special education not being based on the differentiated needs and the growing number of SPED students across Connecticut,” said Emily Byrne, Executive Director of CT Voices. “Ultimately, the totality of the State’s policies are not ones that allow families to root and grow here—policies that provide residents agency and real choices in terms of where to live and where caregivers can send their children, irrespective of needs associated with disabilities, to receive an excellent education. We hope these findings highlight the opportunity for policy- and decision-makers that acting now can make a difference.” According to the report, Connecticut’s student enrollment decreased by 47,000 students between 2007 and 2019—a decline of more than eight percent. Meanwhile, Connecticut’s population of SPED students grew by nearly 16,000 students between 2007 and 2019—an enrollment increase of 23 percent. While statewide SPED costs increased by more than $472 million in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2014 and 2017, state contributions to special education through the state’s Education Cost Sharing (ECS) grant, which is the State’s largest source of SPED funding, fell by $54 million over that period. This is largely because ECS funds are allocated based on the state’s decreasing total student enrollment rather than its increasing SPED enrollment. “Even before the pandemic, Connecticut’s SPED funding and delivery systems failed to keep pace with the growing needs of the state’s special education students, so we cannot count on them to surmount the additional setbacks posed by the interruption to in-person learning,” said Daniel Curtis, a former Research and Policy Associate with CT Voices and the report author. “Enacting this report’s proposals now would provide the support special education students will need to recover from the effects of the pandemic in the coming years and make long-lasting progress towards a more effective and equitable education system.” Using Connecticut’s current methods of funding and delivering SPED services, school districts are struggling to keep pace with these rising costs, and the state’s students are suffering because of it. The budgetary strain of districts’ increasing SPED costs has coincided with a decline in the performance of SPED students relative to their general education peers. Concerningly, the achievement gap between SPED and general education students was found to be even greater in districts with above-average concentrations of students experiencing poverty, which are disproportionately comprised of students of color. CT Voices estimates that remediating learning loss for SPED students will cost the state at least an additional $1.7 billion over the next five years. Though some help is on the way via federal COVID relief funding, the federal pandemic relief money will not be nearly enough to cover these expenses. “We expect our schools and educators to provide equitable learning opportunities for all of our state’s children, but our current system is not adept at ensuring schools have the funding and services they need to support the unique educational needs of SPED students,” said Lauren Ruth, Research and Policy Director with CT Voices. “COVID relief is a start, but is wholly inadequate to address the learning gap experienced by SPED students. If we want our special education systems to be effective and sustainable we must restructure the ways we fund special education.” Children with special education needs are entitled to a free and appropriate public education. The report proposes the following policies to support students and schools:
The State should increase its contribution to the SPED portion of the ECS grant and re-distribute funds through a multiple weights formula that accounts for student needs.
Distribute Excess Cost Grant payments above the current basic contribution threshold using an equity measure, and introduce a second, higher threshold above which the state would assume all costs.
RESCs should build district capacity to identify and serve the emotional and mental health needs of students in early childhood, specifically those from Black and Latino/a/x backgrounds.
Increase the number of direct SPED service programs offered by RESCs and house these programs in pre-existing district schools spread across the state.
According to the report, while the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the state’s previous special education challenges, the increased attention that it has brought to them also presents an opportunity. Other states have seized this moment of increased awareness and unprecedented change to improve their special education systems and make them more sustainable and this report shows that there are options available to Connecticut to do the same. By implementing these systems now, Connecticut could make long-lasting progress towards a more effective and equitable education system. Read the Just Research and Just Facts.
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Connecticut Voices for Children is a “think and do” tank working to ensure that Connecticut is a thriving and equitable state, and where all children achieve their full potential. In furtherance of its vision, Connecticut Voices for Children produces high-quality research and analysis, promotes citizen education, advocates for policy change at the state and local level and works to develop the next generation of leaders.