Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning. Sign Up

Alabama leaders discuss updating education funding model

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A joint legislative committee met Tuesday to explore the idea of updating Alabama’s K-12 education funding model. Multiple lawmakers were surprised to learn how the state’s existing model often left students with special needs without adequate support.

The committee, composed of members of both the Alabama House and Senate education budget committees, was commissioned to study the idea of shifting the state’s education funding model – which has not changed in 30 years – from a resource-based system to a student-based system.

A resource-based system sees education funding allocated based on the number of students, whereas a student-based system sees funding allocated based on both the number of students, and those students’ specific educational needs.

In Alabama, to accommodate for the increased funding to support students with special needs, whatever a given school system’s student population is, it’s assumed their special needs student population is 5% of that.

The school system then receives 2.5 times the amount of funding for those students than they would for a student without special needs.

This funding formula appeared to perplex some members of the committee, including Sen. Kirk Hatcher, D-Montgomery.

“Am I correct in recalling that we basically put a generic 5% of the student population in a given system, we just assume 5% are special needs and then we use this 2.5 multiplier on that number, and we have no bearing on the degree of special needs?” Hatcher asked.

Kirk Fulford, deputy director of the Alabama Legislative Services Agency, who was giving the committee a presentation on the state’s education funding model, confirmed Hatcher’s description.

He did note that the state currently funds a special education grant program to the tune of $17.4 million a year, in addition to the additional funding school systems receive based on their student population, but that even combined, that funding would be far less than what a student-based system would likely produce.

“That is not to the level of what a student-based (system) would do in terms of an additional multiplier to the base for each individual,” Fulford said. “So the cost would go up (should you choose to adopt a student-based system).”

The Joint Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee and House Ways and Means Education Committee holds its meeting at the State House in Montgomery, May 21.

Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, said the funding mechanism for students with special needs came as a surprise to him as well, and noted what he considered to be the mechanism’s inadequacies.

“It seems kind of hard to believe, I’m surprised that I didn’t realize that we’re just assuming,” Faulkner said. “If a school system has 10% special needs for example, but we’re only saying 5%, we’re really putting a hurtin’ on that system.”

Rep. Danny Garrett, R-Trussville, who chairs the House Ways & Means Education Committee, said that a change in the state’s education funding model could also help launch Alabama’s ranking nationally in terms of education, with the state routinely falling within the bottom five of all 50 states.

“We’re all aware of where our state stacks up on the national rankings when it comes to education,” Garrett said.

“The governor’s indicated she wants to be at number 30 pretty quickly, and obviously it’s going to take some change for us to get to that point. Not looking at something for 30 years, we think it makes sense that we do that.”

Following the meeting, Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee, called the current funding for students with special needs, along with other special needs students like English language learners, “woefully small.”

“The $17 million for special needs students, that doesn’t scratch the surface when you have, for some special needs children, a full-time aid with a child who can’t walk, can’t talk; the cost to educate that child is quite substantial,” Orr told Alabama Daily News.

“Right now, we just take a multiplier, 5%, for every school system. We don’t know how many they have, whether 10% or 2% of their population is special needs, and then we don’t know if a child is a very high-functioning special needs child versus the other in the wheelchair who can’t talk and can’t walk.”

When asked by ADN whether lawmakers could enact such change next year, Orr said there was “a chance,” but called such a task an “admittedly huge lift.”

Another member of the committee, Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, also said he was open to enacting a change to the state’s education funding model.

“We’ve got a lot of school districts with special needs that we need to certainly look at,” Kiel told ADN.

“I think looking at the student instead of the funding is the most important thing; see what the student needs, and then provide adequately for that education. If you’ve got 10% special education, and we provide 5% funding for that, it could be (a problem).”

Get the Daily News Digest in your inbox each morning.

Name(Required)
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Web Development By Infomedia