WICHITA, Kan. (KAKE) - Educators and school boards told a special state committee today that Kansas is failing to spend as much money as state law says it should on special education, leaving schools to pick up the bill with money meant for all Kansas kids. 

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however. Both groups shared their views with state lawmakers today, during a special committee meeting at the State House. Educators and school districts say that Kansas is shorting what it is legally required to spend on special education costs by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Because special education is a mandated program, districts cannot cut services, so they have to take money from the base aid per student that the state sends for regular classroom and operational expenses.

In Valley Center, Superintendent Dr. Cory Gibson says that transfer of funds has more than doubled over the last decade as costs and the number of students in special education programming have increased, which hurts all Kansas students. 

"And it's certainly easy to say well, the state's not doing their part. But we have to remember the feds have not done their part, either. When this was passed decades ago, they said.... Their promise was 'we'll fund 40%'. And we're nowhere near that as well. So, it's really a compounded problem between state and federal. The challenge is districts are the ones holding the bill and responsible for making it right," he said.

According to the Kansas Reflector, (April 21, 2022), the Kansas Legislature is supposed to fund 92% of special education costs not covered by federal funds. Right now, it's currently funded at only 76%. This means that school districts have to pay more than $100 million each year above what they actually should be paying. By the 2023-24 school year, the covered amount will drop from 76% to 64%. As a result, school districts have to fund the cost of special at to the detriment of non-special-education students.

Schools say that they've been lobbying the federal government as well for an increase in funding with little success.

According to today's hearing, bringing the state funding up to the legally required mark would cost Kansas about $250-million dollars.

Kansas has a budget surplus, which advocates, including Governor Kelly, say could be used to plug this hole. In the meantime, the Kansas Policy Institute insists that Kansas is already funding special education and says if schools need more money, they have plenty of funds left over in other accounts they could use. 

Dr. Gibson said that he saw a bit of hope in today's hearing, but he also fears some lawmakers have already made up their minds that the solution is simply to lower the state's legal obligations rather than to spend more money on special education.