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Journal Issue: Special Education for Students with Disabilities Volume 6 Number 1 Spring 1996

Financing Special Education
Thomas B. Parrish Jay G. Chambers


Over the past 20 years, services for students with disabilities have become a major component of public education in the United States, by some estimates accounting for 12% of public school expenditures.1 What started as a patchwork of programs for students with disabilities began to be transformed into a truly national system of services with the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (Public Law 94-142) in 1975.

First, this article describes what is known about current funding levels and funding sources for special education. With the growing movement to integrate special education services into the general education classroom, in many jurisdictions it is no longer possible to divide expenditures accurately between special and general education. Second, projected trends of increasing demand for special education services are discussed. Third, issues driving current efforts to reform the funding of special education are examined. Fourth, arguments are presented for and against funding based on total school enrollment ("census-based funding") rather than on special education enrollment. Modification of census-based funding is proposed, to provide supplemental funds for jurisdictions with higher rates of poverty. Finally, criteria for evaluating the appropriateness of state special education funding formulas are listed.