Special Education Fiscal Challenges: Experiences and Solutions

Logo for CIFR IDEA conference

This blog post was written by Dave Phillips and Cecelia Dodge, Co-Directors of the Center for IDEA Fiscal Reporting at WestEd.

The inaugural IDEA Fiscal Forum, held in mid-November 2016, was a huge success, bringing together participants from all over the country to learn about and share common special education fiscal data collection and reporting challenges — and solutions.

The Center for IDEA Fiscal Reporting at WestEd (CIFR), in partnership with the IDEA Data Center (IDC), and in collaboration with the National Center for Systemic Improvement at WestEd (NCSI) Fiscal Support Team, hosted the IDEA Fiscal Forum in Denver, CO. The forum brought together 160 participants representing 47 states, 5 technical assistance centers, and the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP).

The Need for an IDEA Fiscal Forum

In 2014 CIFR was funded under a five-year cooperative agreement to support states surrounding the implementation of complex special education finance requirements. Through its knowledge development and technical assistance efforts in its first two years, CIFR identified the need for a national forum focused specifically on the IDEA fiscal requirements. This was confirmed by a national survey administered by CIFR in which states clearly indicated a need for this type of event.

The Forum featured two and one half days of plenary presentations, learning sessions, and working sessions, all designed to increase the capacity of state staff to meet their obligation to ensure appropriate use and oversight of IDEA funds, and to collect and report special education fiscal data.

In addition to the scheduled sessions, CIFR, IDC, NCSI, and OSEP staff provided one-on-one technical assistance consultations with state staff before and after each meeting day.

Special Education Fiscal Data Challenges

The Forum shed light on key special education fiscal data challenges, such as:

  • The need for deeper state staff knowledge of the fiscal requirements and calculations necessary to submit valid and reliable data on local education agency maintenance of effort, coordinated early intervening services, and maintenance of state financial support
  • The need for improved state staff capacity to implement complex special education data collection and reporting requirements, and to collect and report the data

Implementation of appropriate policies, procedures, and practices to collect and report high-quality special education fiscal data allows states to pursue program improvement goals leading to positive outcomes for students with disabilities, such as graduating from high school.

IDEA Fiscal Forum a Success!

Feedback from Forum participants was overwhelmingly positive. They reported to us that the presentations and content were highly relevant, high quality, and useful. They found information on the following especially helpful:

  • Maintenance of state financial support (the requirement that state funding of special education is consistent from one year to the next) and related data collection, and reporting policies and procedures
  • Maintenance of local agency effort (the requirement that states ensure that local agencies fund special education at consistent levels) and related data collection and reporting practices
  • Coordinated early intervening services (state option or in some cases a requirement to fund and provide supports to at-risk students prior to being referred to special education) and related data collection and reporting requirements

CIFR and our technical assistance partners are eager to build on the energy from this successful Forum as we continue to grow our visibility among states as the go-to resource for addressing complex special education fiscal challenges.

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