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IPS consistently faces multimillion-dollar gap in special education funding

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Indianapolis Public Schools faced a $20.5 million gap in funding for special education for the 2020-21 school year. The year before that, it was $18.8 million.

School officials say the Indiana Legislature hasn’t funded special education at a high enough level, and the district has had to pull money from its general education fund to cover the gap — amounts that equal about 10% of the money the state allocates for tuition support.

“The hit is on our general education programming,” IPS Chief Financial Officer Weston Young said during a media roundtable before he presented the district’s quarterly financial report to the school board Aug. 26.

State tuition support per pupil is expected to increase by 6.2% from the 2020-21 school year to the 2022-23 school year, though Young said the average increase for surrounding districts is around 9%. Lawmakers earlier this year increased funding for special education by $196 million in the state’s two-year budget.

About three-fourths of funding for special education, along with funding for English language learners, where IPS faces a smaller gap, comes from the state government. The rest comes from the federal government.

IPS spent $48.1 million on special education last school year but only received $27.6 in funding. The six-year average funding gap is $18.7 million.

Covering the gap with money from the general education fund means the district misses opportunities to provide more resources to principals for professional development, staffing and instruction materials, Young said.

Federal law says schools have to provide a “free appropriate public education” to students with disabilities, regardless of the nature or severity of the disability. Education programs for students with disabilities must be designed to meet their individual needs to the same extent as students without disabilities.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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