O’Neill Introduces Bill to Protect New Special Education Funding Formula

HARRISBURG – Following the adoption of a new formula for funding basic education in Pennsylvania, Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks) today introduced legislation to ensure a fair funding formula for special education is cemented in law.

The formula, which was developed by the Special Education Funding Commission in 2013 under the direction of O’Neill and Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), has been used to distribute increases in state funding for special education for the last two years but was never permanently codified in statute.

“The formula developed by the commission was the result of months of hard work by stakeholders, members of the commission and staff who were all focused on making sure our children with special needs receive quality education,” O’Neill said. “While I’m thankful that we have had agreement to distribute state funding using this formula for the past two years, I feel it’s important to ensure we continue to do so for years to come. As a former special education teacher, I recognize how crucial quality services are for our students.”

House Bill 2227 would allow for the distribution of special education funding over 2013-14 school year levels to school districts using three cost categories for students receiving special education services. The formula also takes into account community levels of relative wealth, tax effort, school district size and population density.

“The commission aimed to develop a formula that improved accuracy in distributing limited state resources without placing undue burdens on state or local education agencies or creating incentives to over-identify students with learning disabilities,” said O’Neill.

The O’Neill legislation would apply the same funding principles used in the formula for school districts to determine a school district’s payment for a special needs student enrolled in a charter school, regional charter school and cyber charter school, while allowing for a gradual phase-in of the formula for newly enrolled students.

Additionally, it would ensure surplus funding returned to the Commonwealth by approved private schools which didn’t use all the funds they received can be appropriately reallocated to approved private schools struggling with higher special education costs.

“Many factors impact the financial stability of special education programs in our schools,” O’Neill added. “We do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to education – each student’s unique needs are taken into consideration – and the way we distribute funding to all of our schools for these programs should be no different.”

House Bill 2227 would also establish into law the Special Education Contingency Fund, which would allow any public school to apply for additional funding for students with especially costly needs.

The Special Education Funding Commission, created through O’Neill’s Act 3 of 2013, was charged with developing a system for allocating any new state special education funding in a manner that recognizes the actual number of special needs students in a school and the various levels of their need for services. The commission held public hearings throughout Pennsylvania to gather input from schools, students, parents, educators and experts on special education before releasing its recommendations in 2013.

House Bill 2227 awaits consideration by the House Education Committee.

Representative Bernie O’Neill
29th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Abbey Haslam
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