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Why special education costs are rising; more special education students

Posted Date: 04/28/2022

Why special education costs are rising; more special education students

As the Kansas Legislature has been debating special education funding, there have been questions about how many students are served by special education and how those numbers have changed.

The number and percentage of students with disabilities has increased faster than state funding, which means the amount of special education “excess cost” not covered by state aid has declined. That has forced school districts to shift funding from other areas to cover those costs. It would require a $155 million increase in special education funding to reach the appropriate level of “excess costs,” according to the State Board of Education.

Based on data from the Kansas State Department of Education, the percentage of students receiving services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) increased from 16.04 percent of total enrollment in the 2015-16 to 17.77 percent in 2021-22.

As a percentage of KSDE reported statewide headcount enrollment, that is an increase from 78,849 students in 2016 to 85,250 in 2022, or 8.1 percent. At the same time, statewide enrollment for all students declined from 491,575 in 2016 to 479,743 in 2022, or 2.4 percent, influenced by the COVID pandemic.

Students receiving gifted services under Kansas law fell from 2.82 to 2.12 percent, or 3,692 students. Gifted services are not required by federal law.

There are 14 categories of students receiving special education services. Among the areas with both the largest numbers of students identified and the largest areas of growth are autism, developmental delays, learning disabilities, and other health impairments. Another area with a large number of students, speech or language impairment, declined during this period.

Disability percentage table

The cost of providing special education to individual students varies significantly, depending on the level of services provided.

Information on the prevalence percentage of each category for each school district can be found on the KSDE website under the “Data Central” link, then clicking on “Special Education Reports.” From the drop-down menu for “Select a Report,” choose “Special Education Prevalence Data,” then select an organization.

Those percentages can be multiplied by the district’s enrollment, which can be found under the Data Central area for “Kansas K12 Reports.” Use the drop-down menu for “Select a Report” to find “Headcount Enrollment,” and select “District/Organization Totals” under “Data Grouping.”