CRC Report on Special Education Finances
K-12 education and school funding have become perennial public policy issues discussed at local school board meetings, community and parent gatherings, and throughout the halls of the state Capitol. With respect to financial matters, debate often focuses on the near-term - budgets and funding decisions for the current and next years. However, this very important topic requires thoughtful debate that must consider the long-term perspective. To aid in this endeavor, the Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC) has released a new comprehensive analysis of special education finances in Michigan, Financing Special Education: Analyses and Challenges.
CRC's new report tackles the complex, and often confusing, web of fiscal issues surrounding the education of nearly 225,000 special education students each year, almost 14 percent of all students in public education. The report collects and synthesizes data from various sources, including the Michigan Department of Education, Michigan Department of Treasury, and individual intermediate school districts (ISD) to develop a comprehensive picture of special education finances - something that does not exist in a single source because of the structure of the finance system.
In addition to providing an explanation and review of the structure and history of special education finances in Michigan, CRC's research reveals fairly significant differences among school districts in a number of key areas;
- concentration and distribution of special education students across school districts,
- per-pupil revenues/spending,
- revenue growth over time, and
- property wealth and reliance on local property taxes,
In addition to looking at historical financial data, the report examines the challenges, prospectively, associated with financing special education. These challenges arise from state and federal mandates to provide specific services, but also from state and local revenue performance. Unlike general K-12 education funding that is controlled by state policymakers and financed by state taxes (the result of Proposal A of 1994), special education spending remains under the control of local schools and largely dependent on dedicated local property taxes. The report also highlights how state property tax limitations affect the resource base available to schools and the impact of the downturn in property values.
"Although it represents a fairly small sliver of the overall K-12 education outlay each year, special education finances face a unique set of challenges - some similar to, and others much different from, the challenges confronting general K-12 finances," said Craig Thiel of CRC. "Most important to recognize is the relationship at the state and local levels between special education finance and general education finances - they are very much inter-related. Shortfalls in dedicated special education revenues require greater shares of local districts' general fund dollars."
The full report is available at no cost on the Citizens Research Council's website, www.crcmich.org.
Founded in 1916, CRC works to improve government in Michigan. The organization provides factual, unbiased, independent information concerning significant issues of state and local government organization, policy, and finance. By delivery of this information to policymakers and citizens, CRC aims to ensure sound and rational public policy formation in Michigan. For more information, visit www.crcmich.org.