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Kelly, bipartisan group of Kansas legislators urge Congress to boost aid for special education


Kelly, bipartisan group of Kansas legislators urge Congress to boost aid for special education

Mar 16, 2023 | 1:59 pm ET
By Tim Carpenter
Kelly, bipartisan group of Kansas legislators urge Congress to boost aid for special education
Gov. Laura Kelly and the four top Republican and Democratic leaders of the Kansas Legislature sent a joint letter to Congress requesting the federal government meet financial obligations to states in terms of funding special education programs. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly and the Legislature’s Republican and Democratic leadership appealed Thursday to Congress for increased federal appropriations to special education programs and for adherence to financial commitments made decades ago to the states.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act required the federal government to fund up to 40% of a state’s average per-pupil expenditure on special education. Congress never met that target, leaving federal aid to states for special education hovering around 15% of average cost.

The bipartisan group of Kansas lawmakers argued in a letter to Congress the shortfall in federal aid placed an undue financial burden on school districts and taxpayers. In Kansas, the state supplemented special education appropriations with about $300 million annually. Special education expenditures not directly covered through state or federal budgeting would fall to local school districts.

“Congress has failed to provide Kansas schools hundreds of millions of dollars its promised for special education,” said House Speaker Dan Hawkins, a Republican from Wichita. “We hope to send a clear message that Kansas leadership is aligned in supporting our delegation in Congress and all efforts to fulfill the promise made to our kids.”

Kelly, a Democrat who previously urged Congress to meet its promise to states on special education, said she was proud of work by Kansas lawmakers to fund K-12 public education in accordance with state constitutional mandates.

“Special education is still not fully funded, in part, because our partners in Washington have not delivered the federal funding they promised for special education services,” Kelly said.

Kelly recommended the 2023 Legislature increase state spending for students with disabilities and those considered gifted who received special education services. In January, her proposed budget included annual increases of $72 million for a five-year period.

The Kansas House adopted a bill earmarking resources for special education and teacher salaries, but the measure also would implement a voucher-like program directing state tax dollars to private school students. The Kansas Senate has yet to debate the House legislation.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said Congress ought to hold up its end of a financial bargain with states so students weren’t left behind. She said federal underfunding of special education “made it harder for students and teachers in the classroom.”

“Kansas kids and teachers need this funding, long story short,” said House Minority Leader Vic Miller, D-Topeka. “We can only do so much at the state level, and without cooperation from Congress, our efforts are needlessly stunted.”