In 1994, CSEF surveyed special education personnel in all 50 States concerning special education reforms that might be taking place in their State. CSEF learned that during the last 5 years, 18 States had implemented some type of fiscal reform, and 29 States were considering major changes. Twenty States were undecided about carrying out any specific reforms at the time of the survey. Respondents identified five major issues driving reform:(1) the need for more flexible ways to provide special education; (2) the need to eliminate incentives that lead to restrictive placements; (3) the fact that reforms are driven by fiscal accountability; (4) rising special education costs and enrollments; (5) the influence of support for more inclusive educational practices.
CSEF has developed a set of guidelines to develop fiscal policies that promote inclusion. They are: (1) remove fiscal incentives that favor restrictive and separate placements, (2) make decisions about the extent to which the State wishes to encourage private special education placements, (3) develop funding systems in which funds follow students as they move to less restrictive placements, (4) enhance fiscal support for district training, and (5) fund and encourage the use of appropriate interventions for all students.
CSEF conducted a special education cost study of Kentucky's approach to special education funding. The study also indicated that, despite a high degree of parity between special education revenues and costs statewide, considerable differences in the relative degree of alignment across individual types of districts were found. On average, total special education expenditures in relation to revenues were lowest in districts serving the poorest students and in the districts showing the highest special education identification rates. Finally, the study indicated that the funding weights currently in use in the State were apparently not aligned with the costs of educating some categories of special education students.
In addition to current research, CSEF also plans to conduct research that can help produce a better understanding of whether various alternative special education fiscal provisions can result in the types of criteria specified for effective special education finance policy, as defined in this chapter. Three major areas of research include how to best:
In considering the first issue, CSEF might consider what types of funding mechanisms can be developed that will reflect true differences in costs and other circumstances among local districts. These mechanisms would not include too many reporting requirements or overly constrain local flexibility.
As to the second issue, CSEF believes that greater understanding of how much is spent on special education, the specific types of resources that are purchased, and how the resources are used to produce special education services is needed. It also believes that better data about special education resource allocation issues is needed, such as whether one type of program is more costly than another, how alternative program policies affect special education finance, and how special education finance affects other types of educational programs.
As to the third issue, CSEF believes that better special education monitoring and evaluation systems are needed. In its opinion, existing mechanisms almost exclusively adhere to requirements and procedures regarding program provision and resource use. Rather than simply tracking special education funds to determine if they are being spent on services to children in various disability categories, CSEF proposes to collect better information about how much is being spent on specific types of programs and services. In addition, CSEF plans to work on developing better measures of the success of these programs. This would involve data systems that not only determine whether special education funds are being spent properly, but also determine whether they are being spent well.