Federal Stimulus Brilliance: Don't Let Special Ed Funds Follow Student Needs

I’m super busy working on a new Lego project today, so forgive me for keeping this one short. But I wanted to bring your attention to an investigative piece by Greg Campbell at the online Colorado news service Face The State. The story? “Stimulus funds lavished on special ed – even where the need is in decline.”

Apparently, the $150 million in special education dollars kicked down from D.C. to Colorado in the 2009 stimulus (aka the magical money tree) isn’t necessarily paying attention to where the special education students are:

In the Sheridan School District in Arapahoe County, for example, enrollment in special-ed programs fell 22 percent from 2005 to 2009. And yet the amount of federal money the district can spend on such programs ballooned by more than 105 percent between 2009 and 2010, thanks to an infusion of cash from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Likewise, Colorado Springs School District 11 saw its enrollment in special ed decline by 12 percent from 2005 to 2009, but the amount of federal money available to run such programs increased by 114 percent from 2009 to 2010. The same is true of several other districts, large and small, including those in Boulder, Jefferson County, Englewood, Littleton and Estes Park.

I know, I know. How old am I already? Shouldn’t little Eddie have a handle on the inefficiencies of federal spending allocations? Sigh….

Typically, state and local dollars are allocated to school districts on some sort of rational basis connected to the number, status and needs of the students enrolled there. Could we do better? Sure. But the problem more often lies in larger districts doling out those funds at the school level, where staffing rules and union contracts tend to dictate more of the resource distribution than the needs of actual students enrolled. This federal special education spending shows how inefficiency is taken to another level.

Anyway, how much more proof is necessary to show that it’s time for us to change how we fund K-12 schools? “The money follows the child” should be the rule, not the exception.