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Special Education Funding: Three Critical Moves State Policymakers Can Make to Maintain Funding and Bolster Performance

By Sara Doutre, Tammy Kolbe


Special education takes up a large share of many states’ education budgets. When finances are tight, policymakers may look for options to limit or reduce the state’s share of special education spending.

However, unlike general education funds, state funding for special education operates in the context of a unique regulatory framework designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities. State and local education agencies are compelled by federal law to maintain funding levels and ensure a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. These rights cannot be waived, even in the midst of a fiscal crisis.

To provide guidance on how to navigate current fiscal challenges, this brief focuses on systemic reforms that can include integrating and coordinating programs for serving students with diverse learning needs, including students with and without disabilities, and developing new approaches for funding such integrated systems of support. The brief guides policymakers to reaffirm the state’s commitment to educating students with disabilities, to use state policy to promote early intervention and to coordinate services, and to leverage flexibility in using federal and state special education funds.

About This Series

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has partnered with WestEd to publish a series of briefs summarizing the evidence and research on common school finance issues that arise during an economic downturn. Specifically, with the onset of an economic downturn, states face the prospect of reduced tax revenue available to fund public services, including public education. This series of briefs leverages what we know from evidence and research to present approaches that state policymakers may take to address these funding realities while supporting public education.

Also available from this series is, Loosening the Reins: Evidence and Considerations for Lifting Restrictions on Resources for Schools.

Resource Details

Product Information

Copyright: 2020
Format: PDF
Pages: 6
Publisher: WestEd