DENVER (CBS4)– Funding for special education in Colorado could get a major boost. A bill passed unanimously by the Senate Education Committee would increase funding by $93 million.
Connor Long is among those who testified in support of the bill. He was born with Down Syndrome but never let his disability get in the way of his abilities. A high school graduate, Special Olympics ambassador and disability rights advocate, he told state lawmakers he was the product of a good upbringing.
“Through my school’s special education programs, I developed strong communication skills,” Long said.
By law, 80% of funding for these programs should have come from state and federal governments, with school districts providing 20%.
“That’s definitely not the case today,” says Senator Rachel Zenzinger. “It’s actually the opposite, where our local districts cover the majority of our special education and they’re not reimbursed by the state or federal government.”
Zenzinger says districts are forced to use general education dollars to cover the gap — $740 million a year.
She is sponsoring a bill with Senator Barb Kirkmeyer that would increase funding for special education for the first time in 16 years – from $1,250 to $1,750 per student and adjust it each year for inflation.
The bill would also increase funding for students with multiple disabilities from $3,300 to $5,100, and also adjust it each year for inflation. By law, students with significant challenges should receive $6,000 each.
“It’s disappointing to me that we’re breaking our promise and fulfilling our obligation,” Kirkmeyer said.
While the bill still falls short, it brings the state closer to $93 million.
Long reminded lawmakers of children who are being harmed, “We each deserve a chance to find and reach our potential in life.”
School districts say the true cost of special education is closer to $10,000 per student. The bill also creates a committee to analyze the current special education funding model…to determine what it will take to cover services and how other states are meeting the need.