Special education funds approved | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Special education funds approved

Staff and wire reports

Special education students in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District will reap the benefits of a massive funding bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Gray Davis, ending a 20-year legal battle.

California school districts will receive $520 million to pay past costs of special education services. The bill also includes $100 million per year for ongoing district costs.

Lake Tahoe Unified will receive a one-time payment of $241,000 to cover past expenses plus $24,000 per year for 10 years. The money goes into the district’s general fund and may be used at its discretion, Chief Financial Officer Joe White said.

Based on average daily attendance, the district also will receive $17 per special education pupil on an ongoing basis.

“With our decreasing ADA, it’s worth about $90,000,” White said. “It’s ongoing funding for special education and can only be used for special education.”

White said the district has been counting on the special education funding for seven months. The bill results from a settlement reached last fall.

”This is a landmark agreement,” Davis said Tuesday in a taped statement. ”No longer will special education be forced to funnel money from other programs.”

”This is a huge thing for us and a big commitment to special education,” said Davis Campbell, executive director of the California School Boards Association.

The California Constitution requires the state reimburse local governments for the cost of programs the state requires.

In claims and lawsuits filed beginning in 1981, school districts claimed they were not given sufficient money to pay for all the special-education services the state required.

Under three governors, the state claimed the general funding for special education was enough to cover all required programs.

State courts sent the cases back to the Commission on State Mandates, which last summer was ready to allow districts to start filing claims to be reimbursed for eight specific programs dating back to 1981.

However, after protracted negotiations, Davis and the districts last fall announced the settlement contained in the bill signed Tuesday.

To pay for past costs, districts will get $270 million in this year’s budget plus $25 million a year for 10 years beginning this year. They will also get $100 million a year beginning this year for current costs.

Owen Waters, consultant for the districts’ Education Legal Alliance, said at least 30 other states have similar special-education funding disputes that have a ”tremendous impact on our ability to serve the regular classroom.”

He said other states are already interested in California’s settlement.

”This is going to be the model for the future around the country,” Waters predicted.

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