California school districts are shouldering a bigger share of the cost of special education, reflecting a further shift of the burden from state and federal governments, according to a new report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. Between the 2004-05 school year and 2010-11, the local portion of special education services grew from 32 percent to 39 percent. During that same period, the percentage paid by the federal and state governments fell. School districts now pay more than twice what the federal government puts in, or about $3.4 billion a year. The LAO report says the feds have never paid their full share under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
About 10 percent of California’s K-12 students – nearly 690,000 – receive special education services. The majority of them have learning disabilities, such as dyslexia or speech or language impairments. However, those are declining while the number of children with more serious disabilities, which require more extensive and expensive services, are on the rise. Autism diagnoses have grown by 241 percent in the past decade, while other health problems, including asthma, epilepsy and diabetes, have increased by 120 percent.
The average annual cost of education for a student with disabilities has grown by 9 percent in recent years, to about $22,300, which is $12,700 more than the cost of educating a student without disabilities. The federal government pays $2,300 of that, the state covers $5,400, and the remaining $5,000 comes out of school district general funds. State law requires schools to provide special education services for a child from age 3 through the end of the school term after a student turns 22.