State backtracks on special education cuts

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The Illinois State Board of Education is backing off its proposal to cut Chicago’s special education allocation by $53 million this year, but the district still faces the threat of a fundamental change to the way it receives state funding. The Illinois State Board of Education is backing off its proposal to cut Chicago’s special education allocation by $53 million this year, but the district still faces the threat of a fundamental change to the way it receives state funding.

At their meeting Thursday, ISBE Superintendent Christopher Koch will recommend that board members not go ahead with the original budget proposal that included the reduction.

However, in the long term, state officials might pursue the more dramatic piece of the proposal: to stop providing a block grant to CPS for special education and instead make the district bill for services.

After the proposal became public, legal and legislative problems arose that Koch indicates would be difficult to work through before the next fiscal year, according to information in the board packet.

Although all other school district in the state bill for services, a 1995 state law calls for CPS to be given a block grant so that the district can have spending flexibility. The block grant is also part of the Corey H. lawsuit settlement, in which ISBE and CPS agreed to do a better job at inclusion of special education students in regular classes.
 
The original budget proposal called for CPS’ block grant to be cut by 25 percent each year until 2013, at which time the district would start having to bill for services. State officials argue that CPS no longer needs the block grant because the percentage of special education students fell from 18.6 percent in 1995 to 16.2 percent in 2008 and the number of personnel needed also has shrunk.

But CPS officials maintain that with more than 51,000 special education students, billing would be an arduous task. It also is more expensive to provide services in an urban setting.

 Rod Estvan of Access Living says that he finds it disturbing that ISBE is only pulling back because of potential legal issues and not because of “the enormous impact these cuts would have had on the CPS and the students with disabilities it is required to educate.”

Separately, the legislatively-created Special Education Task Force is preparing to hold public meetings on the potential switch from a block grant to billing for services.