A Closer Look: It’s time to reform special education payments for charter schools
The special education funding formula currently used to calculate state subsidies for school districts correctly recognizes that not all students identified for special education have the same educational needs and costs. This tiered formula considers the number of low-, moderate-, and high-need students in the school district and includes factors related to school district wealth and other conditions. Unfortunately, special education tuition rates for charter schools are still calculated under the Charter School Law and are based on the school district’s expenses for special education, not on what the charter school spends to educate its students with disabilities. In 2020-21, more than 93% of the students requiring the most extensive special education services – those costing more than $26,718 per student – were educated by or through a school district. Yet, because the tuition calculation is based on the district’s expenses, the average special education tuition rate paid to charters by districts was $28,553. The resulting impact is the overpayment of millions of dollars each year by school districts to charter schools. A tiered special education funding formula should be applied to charter schools that directs dollars based upon the needs and costs of each student.