At EdSource, John Fensterwald offers a very clear example of how reforms create unanticipated consequences.
Students with disabilities are served by 133 regional agencies that administer special education services for member school districts. These agencies, known as Special Education Local Plan Agencies, or SELPAs, serve either multiple districts or a single large district.
Overall enrollment is declining in about half of the state’s school districts — but not special education enrollment, which results in many SELPAs receiving less state revenue for more students.
San Bernardino City Unified, which is large enough to have its own SELPA, illustrates the challenge. Jayne Christakos, chief business officer for the district, told legislators that at the same time that district enrollment dropped by 398 students, leading to a loss of $4 million in general funding and $210,000 in special education funding, the number of students identified with disabilities increased by 189 students. Many of those are autistic, requiring more money than the state provides.
The current system, adopted in 1998, switched to funding based on total enrollment to discourage districts that were suspected of over-identifying special education students and placing them in separate classes with more seriously disabled students — to get bigger reimbursements. The new process, which is funding based on enrollment, not specific disabilities, did simplify the process but no longer corresponds to need.